Friday, 16 March 2007

Loose language

There's often not a great deal you can do about it but, I decry the imperialistic use of language which seems to be about capturing the "good words" and claiming them as one's own. In this the true meaning of words does not seem to have much bearing on their captured meaning.
To give an example (as I am some what confused myself by what I have written) a well-known coffee chain offers coffee in three different sizes (at least). The word Grande is used to describe what they call "medium", and the word "Alto" to descibe "large".
This is a marketing ploy of course, but I am always's clear to me that their standard offering (which would seem to be small by their own description) is what I would call medium...their medium is a more than adequate large, and the "alto" is huge. Anmy way you learn eventually what size you want...thouygh I am always puzzled by what is medium outside the pictures and what is medium inside!!!
More serious and irksome are the following:
catholic: the word catholic has a life beyond the religious to mean all embracing, universaland broad. The qualified term therefore, eg. Roman or Anglo Catholic would seem to be an oxymoron (a contradiction within itself), and yet the former is the most common use.
A group I head wants to say that rather than being a narrow descriptor of who God is and what God wants (often the imperialism of the "Catholic" church insists that to be catholic is a descriptor of a narrow orthodoxy defined by an elite power structure) but we would suggest that it is better used to see God as "universal" affirming of all people irrespective of gender, nationality, sexuality and which is essentially affirming of equality rather than status and privilege.
liberal: Those of us who migrate to Australia take a while to understand that Liberal actually means Tory or conservative in English terms. Those of us who are really the old-fashioned liberals of the 60s and 70s stand back aghast at how the hard won liberalities are cast aside.
conservative: strangely the word 'conservative' has been captured to mean backward looking or recationary. I want it to mean genuinely conserving that which is important and not throwing out babies with bath water. But so often it means going back to the old tin bath.
evangelical: this word has been comandeered by a certain type of Christian, often fundamentalist, even though it clearly refers to what is a requirement for all christians to spread the gospel. So the word evangelical has been comandeered by some whose style of evangelism is often heavy handed and very manipulative; not values I would readily associate with the gospel
pro-life: sympathetic to a conservative (see above) view of abortion, which sees it not as a day to day strategy but a last port of call, the pro-life (anti abortion) movement is often anything but respectful of the life of those who are affected by the process of decision making about abortion. Women faced with this awful decision are often caricatured as demons incarnate,instead of being viewed compassionately and not merely as political footballs
much of what is said above could also be said about the misuse of the term pro-choice. What worries conservatives (see above) like me, is that pro-choice doesn't always engender careful choice, it may create an indifference and carelessness whioch has no true choice in it at all
traditional: I have within the bounds of my parish a church which styles itself a church of "The Traditional Anglican Communion". They are a breakaway church and by no stretch of the imagination part of the Anglican Communion. Though Archbishop Rowan is kind to these people they are not part of the Anglican Communion. If it wasn't for the fact that it would be a terrible waste of money, someone should take them to court for misleading advertising. Traditional, it would seem to me, has much the same sort of emphasis as the word "conservative" (see above), but is used to mean reactionary, and bizarrely conservative. It hails back to a time in Anglican life when some longed for the establishment of a fanciful type of pseudo Roman Catholicism.
Further it betrays the Anglican sense of "tradition", which has been a tradition of tolerance, openness and living with difference. The mis-named Traditional Anglican Communion, are against the ordination of women, they are authoritarian and regressive. Pity that their energy couldn't be better directed
anglican: we are involved in a struggle at the moment in who can be and who can't be Anglican. Where is the traditional tolerance of extremes? It disturbs some of us that conservative forces are so flexing their muscles that they want to to be intolerant rather intolerant. The justifications are curious..we are big and successful (questionable), we are conservative and traditional (questionable), therefore there is no place for those who are trying to actively dialogue with modern social questions in particular (and surprise surprise) the place of homosexuals in the life of the church.

There are many other words that have the same worry for me (
christian, labour, democrat, gay, advanced)

Why can't we just say what we mean?


Paul Walton said...

Literally is now an intensifier, e.g. 'I was literally climbing up the wall'.

Symbolic as a de-intensifier (what word am I looking for?!), e.g. 'The gesture was [merely] symbolic'.

stephen clark said...

Yes, I am at times careful with language. And other times not.
Part of the rush of writing so much stuff online, the rush to publish doesn't give time always for revision and more measured scrutiny