SCOT BELLAVIA: The Strongest Argument Against Me

In many articles and in my book, The Christian’s Dictionary, I’ve taken to task the changing use of household words. In general, I’ve spelled out how their modern usage misrepresents the word for some nefarious purpose and made the claim that a previous definition (its original when possible) should be understood as its fullest and truest meaning.

I imagine a critic could refute my theses saying my preference for the older definition is simply that: a preference. They’d say what’s become a pet project is sure to fail. They’d note that the internet has brought about unimagined definitions for words like ‘friend,’ ‘handle,’ ‘troll,’ and ‘viral.’ My critics would have an even more potent point when they offer ‘straight’ and ‘pride’ as examples that, without context, some words’ transitions are irreversible.

To my knowledge, I’ve never received the above criticism, but if I had, it would have taken me aback.

Since words do take on new meanings, isn’t it chronological snobbery to say something’s wrong because it’s new to my ears? Do the definitions I’ve endorsed have their own predecessors? That means once upon a time someone likely thought my definition was as unfit as those I’ve admonished in 2022.

Have I been taking issue only with specific words? Why haven’t I argued ‘gay’ return as a synonym of ‘cheery?’ I could write a sequel to my book assessing other words, but is it just because I don’t know their etymology that I don’t have a problem with their contemporary usage?

Clearly, I have some things to consider in future articles. But this rebuttal to my frequent thesis ultimately doesn’t hold water.

Words are abbreviations for an idea or object. For example, in the party game Taboo, with a restricted vocabulary, you have to assume a commonly-held understanding of other words to score a point.

All day long, we talk as if everyone knows what we’re saying, using words we believe have commonly-understood meanings. This is what I trust in to tell myself you are following this article. But misunderstandings arise when we assume a universal (or at least cultural) definition of a word that’s adding a definition.

Another example: we’re hearing ‘love’ increasingly mean “blanket approval of someone’s beliefs.” But a previous primary definition, “caring for the well-being of others,” can’t coexist with the new usage in practice so we see both City Mouse and Country Mouse advocating to “love everyone” yet working against each other.

The strongest argument against mine is that my preference for one definition over one more recently developed doesn’t prove a word’s inappropriateness in the modern world; words carry multiple meanings simultaneously. However, because words matter the addition of a definition is not without purpose.

Scot Bellavia

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