Since Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, the definitions of words have changed. We expect that to happen as we invent new things, as slang words are created, and to keep up with the times. Consequently, new words are needed to name them.
Adding words for these reasons is understandable. Changing definitions of words is difficult to grasp. In Webster’s first dictionary the word “definition” is described as “a brief description of a thing by its properties; the explication of the essence of a thing by its kind and difference.” The definition represents the core of what a word is. To create his dictionary, Webster looked at 26 dictionaries in different languages to determine the origin of each word. His goal was to capture the essence of the word.
Yet definitions are changing from what we thought a word meant. “Truth” went from an “indisputable fact” to an “accepted fact.” What was once the real state of things is now whatever people will allow. “Reality” used to mean “fact” and now means “a resemblance to being real.” No longer does it mean what actually happened. Reality is what anyone wants it to be. The word “Lie” means “to make an untrue statement.” If what is true is what we allow and what happened is somewhat similar to what actually happened, isn’t that a lie? [I use the word lie since the words fake and phony aren’t in Webster’s dictionary.]
How can anyone understand what a person is saying if we don’t have a common language. Lack of communication is a major source of conflict. We fill in our own ideas and get different messages.
So often we hear that a politician or celebrity has to apologize for something they said. A listener puts in their own interpretation which may not be what the speaker meant. When someone speaks we need to figure out what their message is, not what we think it could be. If not we are missing their point. Moreover, we are listening to ourselves. What is the purpose of listening to someone if you are not going to be attentive to what they are saying.
When someone does cry out injustice many people fall in behind them, asking for an apology. Immediately others jump on board with the protester. Why would anyone want to agree with someone who is wrong?
Don’t apologize for something a person thought you meant. They didn’t make an effort to hear you. If you have been misinterpreted you don’t need to respond or retract your words. The person who took offense should look at themselves to determine in them what brought about that feeling. That is their issue they need to reflect on.
This is a reason why there is so much conflict about gender, race, and sexual preference. Someone will take what was spoken and twist around the speaker’s words. This causes problems and consequently, creates tension between groups of people.
The media loves to do this. We hear more stories about what black people do wrong and less on what white people do wrong. Why? It fuels the flames of racism. We only see stories about how defenseless homosexuals are and how horrible the people are who oppose homosexuality. Why? It entices the groups to battle. This makes great storytelling. For the media, it’s about ratings, not the real news.
That is why Noah Webster fought and helped create a universal language. A language that changes as a result of trivial or brief trends will not work. We must have a vocabulary that stands firm in its word definitions.