The Dangers of Changing the Dictionary

I’ve already used this meme once, but even though it’s a funny little quip, the idea behind it is real, and very dangerous, and I think it’s time we addressed the problem.


It’s part of a scene from Babylon 5, where Captain Sheridan is having dinner with the blond “Political Officer” of the Ministry of Peace who has just been assigned to the station.  She insists that Earth has no poverty, no homelessness, no prejudice, no nothing that could be considered bad.  I’ll give it to you here:

It might make you laugh, but when you’re done laughing, you should cry.  This character just admitted that the actual problems have not been solved; they’ve just been redefined so that they are no longer considered problems.  They didn’t change the situation; they changed the words.

As we know, words are the core of thought.  Without words, there is no thought.  So, if we change the words we use, we change thought.

Are you scared yet?

You can see this same erosion of language everywhere in our society.  This isn’t a political blog, so I won’t try to tell anyone reading this what they should believe in that respect; I’m talking about how everyone tries to manipulate language: politicians, reporters, even Church officials play that game.  I’ve already mentioned in one fisk that we need to stop calling people who disregard Church teaching “liberal Catholics,” or people who insist upon liturgical orthodoxy “conservative Catholics.”  If we do that, we have bought someone else’s change of our language, and that changes the way we think.

But it’s not just a problem in the Church; it’s everywhere.  Just look at what’s been going on regarding racism in this country.  A black teen is killed by a white cop, and everyone screams about the “racism epidemic” in this country; but a white police officer is shot in the back by a black man while putting gas in his car, and somehow that’s not racism?  That’s only true if the definition of racism has been changed, and most of us haven’t even realized it.

What does the word actually mean?

racism: [rey-siz-uh m], noun:  1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.  2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.  3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

Looks like the definition of racism doesn’t include a specific race doing the oppressing or discriminating.  But somehow, in people’s actions, and the way racism is described in this country, a white person can’t be the victim of racism, because they’ve never been oppressed.  It doesn’t matter that that statement is utterly false: what about the Holocaust; how about the fact that the origin of the word “slave” came from the “Slavs,” who are white; how about right here in the United States: “No Irish Need Apply”? The meaning has changed to suit the agenda.

Look at the abortion debates.  Abortion, as we well know, is the murder of a baby while still in the womb.  But what does Planned Parenthood and its advocates say about it?  It’s not murder; it’s not even killing, because that thing inside you isn’t really a person–it depends on what you mean by “baby.”  They changed the definition of, let’s see, three words in that sentence alone.  A person isn’t a person; it’s a “blob of cells.”  “Removing” said “blob of cells” isn’t killing, because it wasn’t alive in the first place.  You should even feel good and warm and fuzzy inside, because the soundtrack for an abortion these days is “Silent Night.” Even if abortion was killing–and they’re only occasionally prepared to admit that–it isn’t murder, because you have the right to end that life if you want to.  It’s your body, and your choice, after all.

There’s another word whose meaning has changed.  Choice.  The people who are advocates for abortion like to say that it’s a woman’s choice, but how many abortions are coerced?  They don’t like to talk about that.  A woman is murdered for choosing not to abort her child, but we don’t talk about that.  If you say that you choose not to abort, and to have eight or ten kids, they despise you because you haven’t chosen their way of life.  If your baby has Down’s Syndrome, they ask you why you didn’t abort him, and when you explain that you chose to give him up for adoption instead, you’re the villain of the piece.  If you choose to have a different opinion than them, they don’t just let you go on about your business; they hate and despise you, and use every means at their disposal to destroy or discredit you.

They like to talk about a woman choosing what to do with their body, but deliberately ignore the human trafficking problem that has exploded into epic proportions in this country, and thwart legislation that would help bring an end to it.  None of those trafficked girls–most of them underage–chose anythingBut we advocate “a woman’s right to choose,” don’t we?

It’s not just abortion that changes the definition of murder.  Apparently, killing your grandmother isn’t murder; it’s a kindness, because their quality of life is too low.

The definition of love has changed.  It used to mean something good and holy: desiring the good of another person, even at the expense of oneself, up to and including one’s own death.  It used to mean holy and romantic love between a man and a woman, bound together in the sacrament of marriage.  It used to mean a mother and father’s love for their children.  It even used to mean non-romantic love between friends of the same gender.

Now it means hedonistic pleasure, and whatever anyone wants it to mean.  It can mean physical attraction between anyone: two unmarried people; two men or two women; a man and an underage boy; a man and three or four women.  It can even be applied to an act of murder, as apparently having an abortion is “the deepest level of love for another person.”

Even people trying to do good succumb to this dilution of language.  Today there was an article on Fox News about a baby that was “abandoned” in a Nativity scene in a Catholic Church in New York City.  I am not surprised at Fox New’s take on that particular event, but this one on does exactly the same thing.

Looks like we’ve allowed the meaning of “abandoned” to change as well.

This even appears in popular culture.  One of my favorite shows is the re-make of Hawaii Five-0.  There’s an episode (Season Two, Episode 20, Ha’alele) that involves the medical examiner, Max Bergman, who was adopted as a child after his birth mother left him at a local church.  Unfortunately, there is a serial killer on the loose in Hawaii, and his target is unwed mothers, one of whom was Max’s biological mother.  The killer targets women who leave their babies at the church.

Because they “abandoned” them.

That is the serial killer’s motivation.  Unfortunately, rather than the characters telling the sicko that, no, those women didn’t “abandon” their children (even if he’s crazy and wouldn’t listen, anyway), and using different language among themselves, they perpetuate the same dangerous stereotype.  Even Max uses that word, and has to overcome the emotional baggage of “being abandoned” by his birth mother.  McGarrett tries to comfort him, but doesn’t even try to tell him that no, his mother didn’t “abandon” him; she tried to save him.  It was bad enough to make me yell at the TV screen.

This is truly appalling and more dangerous than any of us have probably considered in the past.  We fight against abortion, we say we want to help women in a bad situation to keep their babies rather than kill them.  And yet, we still use a word like “abandon” in a case like this one in the news.  The location in question, Holy Child of Jesus Church is a designated Safe Haven location, where a mother can anonymously leave her child after he is born without fear of prosecution.

The child was not left in a dumpster; he was left safely in a church–a Catholic church, no less!–and in a location that has been specifically designated as a place for women in trouble to do exactly that.

And yet we say that she “abandoned” her child.

abandon: [uhbanduh n], verb (used with object): 1. to leave completely and finally; forsake utterly; desert.  2. Law. to cast away, leave, or desert, as property or a child.

Did anyone even realize the negative connotations of that particular word?  That to abandon someone or something is automatically a bad thing, thanks to the use of that word.  The mother who left her baby in that church did not do any such thing.  She made a difficult decision, but the right one.  Did she kill her baby?  No.  She gave him to the people she thought could help him.  She did right, and yet we blame her for it.  Maybe not intentionally, but our use of the word “abandon” condemns her, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for using it.

We don’t know what she was thinking when she put her child into that Nativity scene.  Maybe she was crying, praying, wishing it could be otherwise.  Maybe she’d been pressured to have an abortion, but refused, and still couldn’t risk taking the child home with her.  Maybe she thought she couldn’t afford to support him.  Maybe she was afraid for his life as well as her own.  So, she gave him to someone else, to protect and save him.

And we dare to condemn her for it.  Worse, most of us don’t even realize we’ve done it.

We haven’t just changed the word; we’ve changed the thought behind the word.  We’ve allowed people who think that killing a child in the womb is an act of love to say that for a woman to give her child to a Safe Haven is guilty of abandoning it.  And because we’ve done that, we’ve given the pro-aborts another bullet in their gun.  What woman wants to be accused of abandoning her child?  For someone in the midst of a moral dilemma, trying to decide what to do, feeling the pressure of family or friends or society, the use of that one word might be the thing that tips the balance and sends her straight into the arms of the killers at Planned Parenthood.  She doesn’t want to “abandon” her child; it would be better to abort him.  It’s legal, after all.  And apparently, it’s a legal act of love, whereas “child abandonment” is a crime, and something worthy of the contempt of others.

Words have objective meaning.  It’s not that the meaning can never change; just look at the number of words in common usage that mean something completely different today:

Awful: originally meant “worthy of awe;” now means “bad.”

Wench: originally meant “female child;” now means a woman of bad character.

Naughty: originally meant that you had nothing, or “naught;” now means that you are badly behaved.

Hussy: originally meant “a housewife;” now means a woman of ill repute.

And there are more.

Change in language isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Even if the meaning changes over time, words have to have some meaning because they become useless if no one understands them.

You’ve probably read the poem “Jabberwocky,” by Lewis Carroll.  It’s a nonsense poem.  On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with that.  I like that poem.  But think about it in the context of what is going on in our society.  In “Jabberwocky,” most of the words have no meaning:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

and the mome raths outgrabe.

It’s nonsense, but as we read the poem, we can figure out basically what happened.  A son took a sword and killed a monster, and went home to his father with the monster’s head.  But the words themselves are meaningless, so the meaning is assigned by the reader based on the context.

That’s fine, for a nonsense poem; it’s only if you try to apply that to all language that we get into a serious conundrum.

“Truth” has become synonymous with “opinion.”  We’ve all heard the tired, old, disgustingly false assertion that “your truth isn’t my truth.”  It may be true for you that abortion is wrong; but it’s not true for me.  “Opinion” used to mean “a personal view, attitude, or appraisal.”  Now it means “something that actually exists; reality; or truth.”  That’s the definition of “fact.”  But who cares?  Opinion is fact.  The false is true, and the true is false.

Change the meaning of the words, and we can’t communicate.  That’s how tyranny works: people are made to be afraid of simply saying something, rather than of doing something.  If you’re so afraid of saying something because someone might get offended and retaliate against you, you no longer live in a free society.

When did that happen?

Ever since we allowed them to re-write the dictionary.

lsbFollow the squirrel minion to get to Lori’s website, Little Squirrel Books.

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2 Responses to The Dangers of Changing the Dictionary

  1. The mother did abandon her child. She left the baby. As you pointed out in re racism, the word abandon has a specific meaning. If I leave my baby even in a designated space, I’ve abandoned him. It may be necessary. It may be wise and loving. He may grow up hurting because he was abandoned and have to accept that such abandonment was a good gift. It’s still abandonment even of it’s for the best reasons and means the baby will live.


  2. Pingback: Links to Lori’s Other Geeky Works – Little Squirrel Books

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