You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. ~ Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride
I am pretty sure we’ve discussed this here before, but this past week I thought about it again. So you get to be the beneficiaries of my periodic belaboring over the misuse and misapplication of words and how this makes it easy for us to misunderstand concepts that should be simple. As a result, we live in a culture and society where a majority of people are misled about the reality of things. This accelerates the erosion of our personal and collective freedom so it needs to be considered. I’ll start with the word which recently reignited my passion for this particular topic.
*Healthcare: The quick click online definition of healthcare is as follows: The prevention, treatment, and management of illness and the preservation of mental and physical well-being through the services offered by the medical and allied health professions.
That is not a terrible definition, except that it neglects to include the things we can do individually to contribute to our health and personal well-being. Things such as the brisk walk I took with my husband not long after 5:30 AM, or the weight training workout that followed it. The idea that individuals can be largely responsible for the care of our own health has been largely ignored. However, that’s not the part that sparked my notice. How many of us have heard a politician breathlessly bleat out this panicked refrain into the nearest microphone:
“Millions of Americans are living without healthcare!”
Yeah, you’ve heard it. And by that, they mean health insurance. In effect, our entire society has been conditioned to equate health insurance (the bureaucratic apparatus by which medical bills are sometimes partially paid) with healthcare. Drinking plenty of water, eating your broccoli, and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle is probably better insurance than said bureaucratic apparatus.
*Sex: The first quick click online dictionary definition of sex is, again, pretty close to the purest definition of the word, which is actually a biological term: either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species and that are distinguished respectively as female or male especially on the basis of their reproductive organs and structures.
Of course, we’ve replaced sex with gender (which now operates on a spectrum) and taken the words coitus and intercourse and replaced them with sex. For the longest time, I didn’t see a problem with this particular evolution of language, but that was back when I was gullible enough to think that science still held some clout in our society even as religion waned.
I could go on about this particular evolution of language, but then I’d be wandering off the word nerd reservation and that’s not really what we do here.
*Education: The quick clink online dictionary definition of this word is pretty strange: the action or process of educating or of being educated. When I looked up educated, I got: having an education. The second definition is like unto the first but it at least gets to the heart of my problem with our modern understanding of education: the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools.
The classic understanding of education (probably prior to mass schooling) was this: that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations.
In effect, we have discarded the idea of education as a comprehensive endeavor meant to form the whole person into a useful citizen, spouse, parent, employer, and employee. We have replaced that with the notion of education as synonymous with schooling.
Well, that’s it for this edition of Word Nerd Wednesday.
As always, feel free to add your picks for words that don’t mean what we’ve been conditioned to think they mean.