As a lover of language, I get pleasure from a well-turned phrase and I get the heebie-jeebies from egregious syntactical errors. (Not to say that I don't make errors myself, see?) I value language. As a kid, I read my dad's language books and I especially loved William Safire, writer for New York Magazine, and enjoyed his wry commentary on word usage and language evolution. Today, I try to read Steven Pinker, linguist, experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist and popular science author instead of William Safire. I have most of Steven Pinker's books on my eReader, but his stuff is far harder to read than William Safire’s! Still, I enjoy feeling the superiority of having Pinker's writing on my Nook. I think that having his stuff on my eReader makes me cooler.
I remember reading William Safire’s words: “Is sloppiness in speech caused by ignorance or apathy? I don't know and I don't care.”
You would never get such a tongue-in-cheek statement from Steven Pinker! Though he said, “Language mavens commonly confuse their own peeves with a worsening of the language.” Oops.
Neologisms, Language Evolution And The Hijacking Of Words
I don't think our language is getting worse. I think it is evolving, changing and growing like a living thing. Just this year, the Oxford Dictionary added a slew of new words to the dictionary including hackerspace, squee, twerk, LDR and srsly.
Did you know that Dr. Seuss was the first to use the neologistic slang term “nerd”? Although today's neologisms tend to be things like Tebowing, Brangelina and vajayjay, I know that our language will survive and thrive. I love the English language! It has absorbed many, many influences and, spelling nightmares notwithstanding, has incorporated these nuances to create a beautifully rich language.
I do have one problem with language, though. Actually, it's not the language that bugs me, it is the use of the language. When one group of people hijack words and claim them as their own, giving them their own special meaning and ignoring the fact that these words have existed for hundreds of years without any ownership whatsoever, I have a problem.
For example, I have complete and utter faith in my husband. Real and true faith. Faith is a word that means confidence and trust in a person. Yes, I am aware of that other definition. My point is that faith, along with other words, has been claimed by religious minds who then have a hard time recognizing the word's use in a context other than the one way that they are commonly used. What’s worse is that words are not inherently evil, bad or taboo! It is our use of them or our points of view that make them so.
Right now, in fact, I reclaim the word faith! Join me! I also reclaim the words messiah, devilish, moral, soul, spirit, god, witness, reverence, trinity, bless, divine, host, lamb, gospel and creation. I am certain that other words will come to me! I reclaim them in the name of all people!
Recently, I was in a conversation with a Christian. Let me say that I don't debate. Never have, never will. I see absolutely no point in it. Trust me, I was not debating. The person with whom I was conversing pounced on the word faith when I used it. “AHA! You have faith in science!” was the likely exclamation. The person went on, of course, as you can predict, to say that I worship science. YES, SCIENCE IS MY GOD, according to this person.
Who comes up with this stuff? How I would love to be in the room with the priests and ministers as they stand at the pulpits and assure the fine people that, indeed, atheists have faith! Yes, indeed, and black is white, up is down, yes is no and atheists are the faithful. No wonder the good people in the church struggle so hard with making sense of things. It is almost painful to think of the people looking to the clergy for guidance, comfort, wisdom, truth and getting this confusion. The church purposefully obfuscates the language so that believers have to struggle even more to get out of the noose of belief.
I take solace in knowing that I have the power at any moment to reclaim any word that I choose. I will not sit quietly and allow any religion to remove the majesty of my language! I will fight for clarity and freedom every single time I can!