(My latest Huffington Post blog)
In the war of words that is taking place in today’s society, the biggest loser has been Merriam-Webster.
As someone who has taught writing to middle school students for the past dozen years and who previously made a living writing for southwest Missouri newspapers for two decades, I have always considered the dictionary, whether it be printed or online, to be a trusted friend.
But the times, as Bob Dylan so eloquently noted, they are a changin’ and the definitions of words that have held deep meaning through the years are no longer recognizable.
Since when has solving our nation’s economic difficulties by cutting taxes to the bare minimum (or even further) for the wealthiest people, but cutting services for the poor and the elderly been defined as “courageous?”
The media, the ones who above all others, should serve as protectors of our language, have raved about the ‘courage” of Rep. Paul Ryan, whose idea of “tough” decisions on the economy, starts with cutting anything that is not of importance to the CEOs and campaign contributors.
If you go by the dictionary alone, it would seem obvious that “job providers” would be those who provide jobs, people who added to the workforce. Judging by the rather fluid definition now being used, a “job provider” is someone who has a company, has seen his taxes lowered time after time, but has never used the extra money to actually add to the work force. That, of course, would change with the next tax cut. Or at least that’s what they say.
I have no problem finding the word “revenue” in the dictionary, but the way it is used in public discourse has no connection to Webster’s definition. Apparently, revenue is a good thing when it shows up in the quarterly reports of companies. Finding an additional revenue stream is considered to be wonderful.
That definition doesn’t apply to government. In government, we have been told time after time, we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. In other words, the only time when revenue is not a good thing, is when it is used for the benefit of the American people and not for just the job providers (who aren’t providing jobs if you have been paying attention).
As an educator, the word that has been the most criminally abused has been “reform.” There was a time when a reform movement was one that tackled corruption, whether it be in government or society.
When I think of reformers, I think of those who have tackled some of society’s greatest injustices, racism, corruption, poverty, and sought to make things better for society.
How perverted has the definition of “reform” become when its symbols are Michelle Rhee wielding a broom, or Chris Christie and Scott Walker bullying people who have devoted their lives to helping children?
The word reform, as far as education is concerned, is confined to a belief that standardized tests are the be-all and end-all of education, that teachers who have more experience are automatically suspect and inferior to those who have taken six-week Teach for America training, and that teachers, not students, not parents, and not social conditions are the only variable when it comes to children learning.
Words are important and their misuse has deeply contributed to the downward spiral that this nation has found itself in for the past several years.
I have listened as those who are the biggest offenders in their corruption of our language preach about the need to return to the basic principles laid down by our founding fathers.
I suspect our founding fathers would be appalled if they were to see the evils that have been done in their names.
I long for a return to the days when job providers actually provided jobs, when people who were reformers contributed to the betterment of society, and when bullies were shunned rather than being elected.
I pray for the day when once again courage can be measured by how willing a person is to stand up for what is right and not be willing to sacrifice the rights of American workers, whether they be on the assembly line or in front of a classroom, for short-term political gain.
I hope in the near future, I see the word courage defined to mean a leader who does not sacrifice some of the greatest successes of American government, including public education, Social Security, and Medicare, on the altar of bi-partisanship.
It wasn’t that long ago that some of those who today are described as “reformers” and having “courage” were quite properly labeled as “dangerous.” Now that type of language would immediately be condemned as “playing to the base” or as “class warfare.”
The spin doctors have succeeded in making the English language unrecognizable.
At long last, words fail us.