“Words — so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to [manipulate] them!” — Nathaniel Hawthorne
This past Wednesday, Merriam-Webster announced it was changing the definition of “anti-vaxxer” to include not only people who oppose vaccinations but also those who oppose laws that mandate vaccinations.
This is not the first time Webster has done its best to impersonate Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. Last October, they edited their definition of “preference,” noting that the word is “offensive” when used in reference to a person’s sexuality. And in June 2020, these dictionary divines expanded the definition of “racism” to include “systemic oppression” of one racial group by another.
In my book, “Grow Up! Life Isn’t Safe, but It’s Good,” I offer the following: “If we are to communicate sanely and intelligently with one another, words must mean something. A pony can’t be a fish, and a fish can’t be a chicken. The meaning of words must be objective, predictable, and enduring. If they are not, you couldn’t read this sentence and have any hope of understanding what it says. The very nature of speaking, reading, and writing assumes definitional clarity; otherwise, normal daily communication would become as impossible as trying to play football without a field or ball.
“When it comes to a dictionary, facts matter, not your feelings. You might feel like red is a number. But it’s not. You might feel like two plus two equals green. But it doesn’t. You might feel that dogs are quarter horses and that your Labrador Retriever lays eggs. But she won’t. In all of these examples, none of your feelings change the facts of what truly is. Definitions matter. Your delusions don’t.”
The bottom line is this — Words mean something. As human beings, we are unique in our use of language as our primary method of communication. We debate, and we argue. We make speeches, and we deliver sermons. We teach lessons. We pontificate, we preach, and we proclaim. We espouse liberal and conservative ideas. Our “bigger ideas” are framed and defended with emotion, passion, anger, and indignation. We have confidence in our words, and we resist any attempt to co-opt, twist or manipulate their meanings.
We defend our words with tenacity. If they deceive, we call them lies. If they embolden, we call them inspiring. If they make promises, we call them contracts. Words indeed have to mean something, and history shows that they have the power to build nations, define religions, inspire revolutions, defend what is true, or even hide what is false.
Today’s woke disregard for the objective meaning of words has led to less liberty rather than more. Progressives have spun reality and turned it on its head. In their fluid rainbow lexicon, love is now synonymous with sex, and hate is now synonymous with love. Men are women, and women are men.
We now live in a fantasy world where red is a number, and two plus two equals green, and if you disagree, you will be silenced. Radical subjectivity, cancel culture, and political correctness have blinded us from seeing reality for what it truly is. It is a Matrix ruled and dominated by whatever leftist brats happen to demand on any given day.
When we compromise the definition of words and their clear meanings, we compromise our ability to debate or disagree. We shift from being critical thinkers to little more than parrots for what is popular and in vogue. C.S. Lewis expressed this type of shift as he scolded the agnostic in “The Great Divorce”: “We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful … We just started automatically … saying the kind of things that won applause.”
If Christ’s parable of building on sand or rock tells us anything, it tells us that foundations matter. Definitions make a difference. A stable foundation holds true. Shifting sands crumble. Jesus was very clear — Our lives must be built on the solid rock of enduring definitions, or as Chesterton once put it, “The point of opening one’s mind, akin to that of opening one’s mouth, is to close it on something solid.”
A culture of shifting sand, moving targets, and fairy-tale definitions will collapse and fail. Words have definitions. Meanings aren’t changed just because you and I, or Webster, feel like it.
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be.” — The Mad Hatter
• Everett Piper (dreverettpiper.com, @dreverettpiper), a columnist for The Washington Times, is a former university president and radio host. He is the author of “Not a Daycare: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery) and, most recently, “Grow Up: Life Isn’t Safe, But It’s Good” (Regnery, 2021).
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