Meaning07 August 2016
Words used to have meaning, used not to be mere scribbles on paper or sounds made to satisfy popular demand.
Take ‘hero’. A hero to me is someone who battles near-impossible odds to save a life, or works for a lifetime against near-impossible odds to change lives. A hero is emphatically NOT someone who kicks a ball for a few minutes each week or runs/swims/cavorts quite fast/energetically - or does both - whilst being paid an entertainer’s wage. Real heroes do it because it’s there, because it must be done, not for the rewards.
For some the distinction between the modern and classical versions of the term is unimportant. And that’s a shame.
‘Truth’ used to be something incontrovertible, sustained by peer or objective review, unassailable. Nowadays it’s whatever some politician says - or believes they can get away with saying. And they do. Get away with it. No amount of fact-checking can overcome a recognisable face on the TV or in a favourite newspaper.
Wholesale use of hyperbole is peaking, we can see it all around. There will come a time when even the most hardened Sun or New York Post journalist at least considers giving up.
At least I hope so. I really don’t like this erosion of meaning. What’s next though?
To be sure, languages must evolve, take at least that for granted. In a lot of cases it’s necessary as technology or social change mandates the reduction of complex phrases in favour of a jargon adopted by the general public. In some cases it’s the adoption of trivial, inconsequential, transient words emerging from social media. In others it’s borrowing of foreign words used regularly by a sizeable proportion of those who speak whatever language is evolving. It seems to me though that dictionary committees are spending more time courting the press than accurately following trends.
Trust and tradition, both are being eroded at rates faster than previously seen. ‘Trust’ in an age during which words lose their meaning is a bit of a misnomer. There are a very very small number of people and organisations I can trust without thought. And the list diminishes with time.
Yes of course all ‘traditions’ aren’t necessarily good. Hunting foxes, chasing cheese down hills, Morris Dancing, you know…
Well there’s a phrase: ‘Less is more.’ What a load of crap! Someone influential should redo it to be a true reflection of our times: ‘More is less’.
Hah! There’s a gap in the market; I should apply for a part-time job as a writer, opining from the perspective of a grumpy old bast…
As traditions, trust, language all degenerate where can we find solace in these uncertain times?
Reverting back to one of the biggest comforts of the modern age, at least the sporting world provides some useful distractions: for instance the Olympics (hashtags) and football (obscene spending.)
Reading the news earlier I came across a couple of rage-inducing sentences:
Grabbing a couple of sentences from the article: “Manchester United are on the brink of re-signing Paul Pogba from Juventus in a world record £89m deal. United will pay 105m euros for Pogba and performance-related bonuses and other costs could see that figure rise.”
And that’s a lot of money - some would say ‘obscene’ - for an as-yet unproven talent. It’s a fifth of a hospital, and amounts to a lot of shirt sales.
‘Rage’ though? That may be overstating things a bit; I’ve broken nothing, lashed out at no-one, kicked no dogs, swung no cats…
Best to calm down a bit and look at the…
…let’s not, it’s altogether too depressing.