Wednesday, April 09, 2014
I’ve been thinking again and that always causes some folks concern while it leaves others just scratching their heads, but semantics has been on my mind a lot lately. Semantics as defined by Merriam-Webster (2014) is at its very basic definition is just the study of the meanings of words and phrases in language or in a particular context, for example, obesity. No one wants to be obese, but what or whom defines obesity. However, it is more acceptable to describe ourselves as portly, chubby, fleshy or stocky, but obese? Why, obese is more than just fat! Actually, portly, chubby, stocky, fat are all synonyms for obesity… newsflash, they all mean the same basic thing, according to dear old Merriam-Webster (2014). All previously mentioned synonyms as well as obesity mean “a condition characterized by the excessive accumulation and storage of fat in the body” (Merriam-Webster, 2014). Remember these are my thoughts, so bear with me. Now thinking along this line of thought, let’s throw out a couple other words and/or phrases that I think have caused all kinds of division and discord throughout history: incentive vs. bribe; magic vs. miracles; “get saved” vs. “awakened to faith”; garden flower vs. weed; half-full glass vs. half-empty glass; adult novel vs. pornography; and the list could continue till the next millennium… The point is words are symbols of communication. Their meaning is relevant to the communicator and the communication receiver. That is great as long as both are on the same page for word meaning but look out when the sender and the receiver are on a different page.
I believe semantics is the reason we have so many different religions, dominations, cultures, and eveninterpretations of The Bible. By using a synonym for a word, such as obesity, we can make a statement fit our purpose or belief. By changing a word, we can often persuade another person to see things our way, but do we really? Perhaps, we just adjust our viewpoint when we change a word to one of its synonyms to fit another’s belief. For instance, if the CEO of a major company wants to really push a particular product, he is going to offer an incentive if his sales people and/or the customers buy this product, such as a rebate of $100 or giving an upgrade option away. Now according to Mr. Webster again, incentive, which invokes a good feeling in most of us, is defined, “something that incites or has a tendency to incite to determination or action” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2014). On the other hand, bribe, which invokes a negative feeling in most of us, has two parts to its definition: “1: money or favor given or promised in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust; 2: something that serves to induce or influence” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2014). Let’s look just a bit further to Mr. Webster’s Thesaurus.
If we compare prophecy with clairvoyance, there are so many similarities between these two words.Prophecy as defined by Mr. Webster is “a statement that something will happen in the future; the power or ability to know what will happen in the future” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2014); on the other hand, the definition of clairvoyance is “the power or faculty of discerning objects not present to the senses; ability to perceive matters beyond the range of ordinary perception; to predict future events (noun). Common related words to prophecy and clairvoyance include “foreknowledge and foresight” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2014).
Two more words that I worked with in my semantics study was miracle and magic. Now to just clarify, I am not talking magic as in a magician or illusionist, such as David Copperfield, so I’m not going to include the parts that refer to magic tricks in the definition of magic because most of the time, that is an illusion, not really magic. Magic is defined as “the use of means believed to have supernatural power over natural forces; an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source” (Merriam-Webster, 2014). Mr. Webster defines miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs; an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment” (Merriam-Webster, 2014). The definitions between magic and miracles are where the similarities end. No synonyms are common between the two words. In fact, there are more similarities in synonyms between magic and prophecy than miracle and magic.
More than semantics is at stake here. Who benefits when certain words are labeled as bad, evil as opposed to others as righteous, good? I am one of those people with a ton of natural curiosity about a diverse range of subjects. Semantics interests me because I believe that words and their definitions through the ages are changed by specific groups and cultures in order to fit their needs. If the word won’t change enough in people’s minds to suit the power head in the group, then I think that word and/or practice is discarded, degraded, even branded as evil; while another word is invented and tagged as more appropriate. Looking into the history of words, their meanings and origins might show us that we are not so different than people outside our culture and comfort zones. Still thinking so watch for more on semantics….
Till Next Time!
Clairvoyance. (n.d.). Retrieved April 8, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/clairvoyance
Magic. (n.d.). Retrieved April 8, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/magic
Miracle. (n.d.). Retrieved April 8, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/miracle
Prophecy. (n.d.). Retrieved April 8, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prophecy
Obesity. (n.d.) Retrieved March 4, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obesity
Semantics. (n.d.) Retrieved March 4, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/semantics