Words? What Are They Good For?


By: Jeff Katz – April 2013

Katz2I have heard the phrase, “words have meaning” for the better part of my life. As a small boy when I called my brother something nasty and then tried to explain that I did not really mean anything by it, my mom or dad would come along and remind me that “words have meaning.”

The same admonition was visited on my brother when he would hurl some verbal nastygram in my direction. Throughout all levels of school, I’ve had teachers, counselors, principals and professors remind me that “words have meaning.” In the world I have inhabited as a writer, speaker and broadcaster, I have been reminded repeatedly that, “words have meaning.” Attorneys often let people know that “words have meaning” usually by using meaningful words like libel and slander.

Despite millions of lessons about words and their meanings, we now know that we’ve all been wrong all this time. Certain words we have defined over the years are presently having their meanings changed, altered, twisted or simply flushed.

The raging debate about so-called marriage equality is being decided by the Supreme Court and whatever the ruling is, half of the country will be livid. Let me be clear, I wish all people a long happy, healthy life. Want to live with a man? OK with me. A woman? Alright, then. An ornate rocking chair? You betcha. The problem is not necessarily with whom or what you choose to share your life, but rather the word which is used to describe said relationship. As marriage is currently being redefined to include a variety of new matrimonial machinations, I would simply remind people that any new definitions will set the precedent for even more connubial computations in the future.

Another term we all know the definition of is also being changed. Just days ago, the Associated Press declared that the term “illegal alien” which of course is used to describe people who have illegally invaded the United States will no longer be used. Nope, no more describing illegal aliens as, well, you know illegal aliens. Apparently illegal aliens will now be known as undocumented visitors! Call me crazy, but it seems to me that you can only be undocumented when you actually start the process by being documented. Sort of like when I walk out of the house and forget my wallet.

So what is next in the lunatic lexicon? May I humbly suggest that the crime of bank robbery now be described as making an unexpected withdrawal? How about declaring that drug dealers should now be referred to as undocumented pharmacists.