Bernie Anderson
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the blog

Current musings, whatever they may be. 

Word Murder in the First

The evolution of language is a natural thing.

I discovered this while learning to speak a language other than English. Our modern era of turbulence exasperates the reality.

“No,” the child tweeted back to his mother, feigning defiance.

Think about a simple word like "tweet". Not long ago, this word would only be used in the context of a bird. The only time a human might "tweet" would be artistic description.

Now humans "tweet" all the time, having nothing to do with sounds we make. Tweet is changing.

Words shape-shift.

Meaning changes, culture changes. Some words become less useful. Some words disappear altogether. It's normal.

Yet, I often wonder what people like CS Lewis would say about the use of language, particularly as connected to social media.

My guess is Lewis would think well about the causality of our evolving language, and the ongoing epidemic of verbicide. (A word used by Lewis to describe the murder of words.) Is it social media? Or just media in general? I don't know. Either way, our language is changing faster than we know.

But the problem isn't natural language change. The problem is the current excessive need to sanction (or not sanction) things, people, ideas, opinions, ad infinitanauseum. CS Lewis argues that this is how words die - when a word is used for the sake of expressing opinion, rather than to describe.

But the greatest cause of verbicide is the fact that most people are obviously far more anxious to express their approval and disapproval of things than to describe them. Hence the tendency of words to become less descriptive and more evaluative; then become evaluative, while still retaining some hint of the sort of goodness or badness implied; and to end up by being purely evaluative — useless synonyms for good or for bad.
— CS Lewis

Current Acts of Verbicide

In our day of political polarization, words like "liberal" or "conservative" are no longer descriptive of anything. They have become completely evaluative. Those words have devolved to mean either "good" or "bad," depending on which side of the political line you stand, rendered ineffective as descriptors. The words are gasping for meaning, near dead. The murder is near complete.

The same is true with words like refugee.
Immigrant. Undocumented. Evangelical.

For many people, these words are describing nothing except "good" or "bad". These words are becoming less valuable as descriptors as they become more evaluative in nature.

Verbicide is the devolving of language.

At the core of the murder of words is our societal value of personal opinion. The individual approval or disapproval of things. Of ideas. Of people.

Our refusal to listen, understand, and dialogue.

So, at the end of the day, we'd rather express opinion than describe. And it's killing our language, as well as, our society and culture.

Those things are all connected anyway.

Words are important. Words are powerful. Description is more important than snap-judgment, and personal opinion.

Use words to see the world before using them to evaluate the world, because clarity will always lend itself to accuracy. And clarity takes thought and time.