A curmudgeonly view of words

A curmudgeonly view of words

Recently a few choice words have caught my ear. You see, I care more about words than someone who hasn’t ever thought about majoring in English probably should.

There are two main ways I see people abusing the English language, and I’m not happy about it:

  1. Change the meaning of words to suit your purposes
  2. Use a word in an inappropriate context to appropriate some of the associations and meanings of that word for your own purposes

The first is easy- straight 1984 Truth is Love, etc. You can see this in the different definitions the NSA uses for ‘collect’ and ‘analyze’, which any common sense check of the meaning of the word would find to be a total abuse of the language. This I am angry about, but is less easy to fight- there is something broken in our oversight system when no one said “hey, wait a minute- it doesn’t matter if a human or a computer is looking at the data – storing the data is still collecting! This is common sense!”

Instead, I’d like to talk about the second abuse of language, one which seems almost innocent at the time. Here are some examples:

  • “Come into our shop: we love you!”
  • “Here’s our list of app heroes– they’ve checked in 1000 times this week!”

I’m sure you can think of more…

Often these are marketers, although I see them in political campaigns as well. The ultimate aim of these marketers is to convince you to buy something (duh). It is, of course, impossible for a shop to love every customer that walks in the door. The owners may love the independence the shop gives them, and may appreciate greatly the patronage of their store, but they certainly do not love every customer who reads the sign, according to any measure of common sense.

“Colin, it doesn’t matter! It’s a little silly, but no harm done…” –basically everyone

I disagree. When a marketer uses these terms, they are essentially stealing from all of us for their own ends. When a retailer uses the word ‘love’ to describe someone who has a relationship that could not be love, they are cheapening the word for everyone else. Not all at once, with the first use, but over time, slowly. We should be angry at this- every small take from our culture adds up and makes the world a worse place, not one filled more with love, as the marketer might claim.

Maybe I’m a curmudgeon, but I take pretty seriously our culture- I think that one of the reasons that we feel our culture does not reflect our values often is that we don’t confront things that bother us, as trivial as they might seem.

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