Word Nerd Wednesday: Systemic

It is my earnest attempt to keep this as word nerdy and apolitical as possible, but given the way this word is being tossed around of late, I thought it warranted a closer look. So against my better judgment, I want to parse the word systemic, because I am fairly certain it doesn’t mean what most people think it means.

What can I say? Inigo Montoya looms large here at Reading in Between the Life. First, a definition, or more accurately, several definitions, from two etymological sources:

System (From Webster’s 1828 dictionary, where the word systemic isn’t listed):

1. An assemblage of things adjusted into a regular whole; or a whole plan or scheme consisting of many parts connected in such a manner as to create a chain of mutual dependencies; or a regular union of principles or parts forming one entire thing. Thus we say, a system of logic, a system of philosophy, a system of government, a system of principles, the solar system the Copernican system a system of divinity, a system of law, a system of morality, a system of husbandry, a system of botany or of chemistry.

2. Regular method or order.

Systemic (Merriam Webster online):

a: affecting the body generally systemic diseases

b: supplying those parts of the body that receive blood through the aorta rather than through the pulmonary artery

c: of, relating to, or being a pesticide that as used is harmless to the plant or higher animal but when absorbed into its sap or bloodstream makes the entire organism toxic to pests (such as an insect or fungus)

d: fundamental to a predominant social, economic, or political practice

So the word systemic shows a framework or “system” intentionally designed to produce a particular outcome, whether negative or positive, for particular citizens.

When you live in a system with layers upon layers of legal prohibitions and protections to ensure that certain positive outcomes are enhanced and other negative outcomes are reduced for all citizens (even when the positive outcomes aren’t merited and the negative outcomes are deserved), then it’s probably a good idea to think critically about whether the definition of the word, as it’s being espoused, is correct.

This is especially true when there is access to legal and historical information distinguishing a time when the system was one way, legally, and there is a clear and direct line of systemic reforms which show a pattern of moving from one system to another.

Lastly, “microaggressions” are interpersonal, one-on-one occurrences, and are therefore not acceptable examples or proof of systemic design. Humans gonna human, and we all suck sometimes in one way or another.

Now, go. Educate yourself. Most schools are not equipped to do it for you, at least not properly.

8 thoughts on “Word Nerd Wednesday: Systemic

  1. smkoseki says:

    1. We don’t do in media, so I had to figure out your implied context for “systemic” (we live in a rural white area). LOL my life must be 2000% better without the news. I wonder how long before everyone else joins me in boycotting the news…

    2. Every time you bring up Montoya all I can think of is Sheed’s brilliant explanation of the difference between “inconceivable” and “unimaginable” in book Theology and Sanity. Anyone can read this section for free on Google Books just with a Google search).

    3. We didn’t have systemic on our vocab list! That failure is now rectified. Love these Word Nerds!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dave says:

    We progressives don’t understand exactly what’s keeping non-whites down, but it can’t be due to any innate differences between races, so there must be racism hidden in the system somewhere.

    Just as the Soviets knew that failures of production could never be the fault of Communism; they must be the work of capitalist saboteurs. Go arrest everyone who’s ever expressed doubts about Communism — the culprit is surely among them!


  3. nellperkins says:

    Thank you, Elspeth. I don’t know how apolitical you can keep this, but I really appreciate you sticking your neck out like this. Have you read Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language? I used to read it once a year.


  4. Elspeth says:

    Hi, Nell!

    I think I kept this fairly apolitical, given the topic, and that a whopping 10 people read here, :). I certainly didn’t think I was sticking my neck out or I wouldn’t have done it.

    At the end of the day, the stunning lack of understanding of words and what they mean bothers me. Additionally, the fact that we are as thoroughly schooled as ever yet increasingly less knowledgeable makes me wonder about which way we’re headed.

    If this is controversial, an exploration of what a current buzzword actually means, then we’re in worse trouble than even I thought, and I haven’t been watching any of this through an optimistic lens.


  5. Crystal Keller says:

    I wanna see your “comments” on this one. Hope you don’t get too much painful push back.

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

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