A Changing Language

“I the Lord do not change.”

  • Malachi 3:6a

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

  • John 1:1-5

Since we’ve mentioned ‘evolution’ for a few days, might I add that our language evolves.  You invent something new; this new thing must have a name.  Take the internet for example.  Someone could just have easily called internet, “cool beans.”  In fact, someone, I am sure, saw the internet for the first time and said, “Cool Beans!”

My senior year of high school featured an English teacher, brought out of retirement so that the teacher that I hoped to have could have a baby.  This woman was old when she taught my mother.  Since my mother gave birth to me when in her early thirties, that means this teacher was O-L-D.  She taught us a word, “boughten.”  She felt compelled to do so since it was in no one’s dictionary.  The word was, more than a hundred years ago, a form of the verb “to buy”.  Example: “I bought a book by Max Lucado last week.  I have boughten books by Max Lucado many times.”  Spell check still allows it, but does anyone use it?

But this only talks about words that drift away from lack of use and new words for new things.  There was once a time when in slang speech, ‘good’ was ‘bad’ and ‘bad’ was ‘good’.  I think Satan had a hand in that slang movement to simply blur the line between good and evil, but maybe that’s just me.

Other words have forever changed their meaning.  When I was a cub scout.  There was a sentence in the cub scout oath, “I will be square.”  It meant that we will be honest and trustworthy, upright in thought, word, and deed.  But the hippie movement stole the word and used it to mean anything from the old establishment, and thus anything not ‘hippie.’  In a way, the word never changed meaning, since to be honest and trustworthy and upright toward the establishment was square before and square after.  But the scouting bosses thought that there was a negative connotation to the word, and the phrase disappeared from the oath.  As a nineteen-year-old den mother (yes, mother.  They had not changed the language to den leader at the time.  In that case, language, and the patches to accompany the language, did not change fast enough.), I taught my boys the new cub scout oath.  I stumbled over it so badly that the boys were confused.  One boy asked, “Aren’t you an Eagle Scout?  Shouldn’t you know this stuff?”  But I knew it when ‘square’ was in there.

Of course, when I grew up, it was perfectly fine, and in fact encouraged, to be happy and gay.  I know, some people think that today.  They even have pride marches to express their gayness.  Notice that I didn’t say ‘gaiety.’  When a word changes, the adjectives and adverbs change also.

Of course, there is the push for gender neutrality within language.  Fireman Sam, a well-known, and well-loved, cartoon on the BBC, has been taken off the air.  It is “offensive.”  Firemen have been called firefighters for thirty years.  But Fireman Sam started in Wales over thirty years ago.  Watch out, lovers of Peppa Pig, Peppa’s father has referred to a ‘fireman’ in a couple of episodes and the gender police have served notice.

And what of the word “friend?” We have social media friends. We might avoid some of these ‘friends’ at a real social gathering. You know, face to face. But let’s just think of the people that you call friends. Do you really have any? Yes, there is the person who asks you out for dinner on occasion and might pay. Those that insist on paying all the time make me feel inadequate. Sure, I probably would not go out for dinner if not to visit with them, but let me pay once in a while to maintain my manhood, okay! Some are church friends. Have you ever seen them except at church? C. S. Lewis wrote that we should never have more friends than the number that we can maintain as such. If we have friends, they should take up time in our day or week. Do you know their birthdays? I don’t, but that is my wife’s special gift. She let’s me know. We need to know about our friends. We need to be able to be open with our friends without fear of exposing some dark secret. Friends keep those secrets. Gossips, who are never friends for anyone but do a good job of pretending, cannot keep secrets at all. Some of my best friends are a few that I have never met. They are fellow bloggers. I call them friends, because we share from our souls and we do not judge one another. I miss not having that one good friend. I do not know if that person exists. Then again, my wife is that one good friend, but you sometimes want someone to talk to about the ballgame…

Dominic Steele interviewed David Robertson and Steve McAlpine on The Pastor’s Heart.  Here is the link to the Wee Flea copy of that interview.  David Robertson spells his friend’s name ‘MacAlpine,’ but forgive him.  He’s Scottish.  In the interview, they discuss how language changes so quickly that as you prepare a method of introducing the love of Jesus to people and have it edited and cleared by the bosses, the language has changed.  Those words don’t mean what they meant when you started writing.

To illustrate what these fine pastors are saying, let me give an example.  We have often referred to “sex” as love or love making.  But what if we reverse it?  What if “love” meant sex or sex ‘making?’  Then, we go down the street telling people that God loves you and they respond, “Yuck!”

It used to be that dictionaries were reprinted on an occasional basis, say every ten years.  Each year, the dictionary authorities would vote on adding new words and removing unused words, but this was done at annual meetings – not on impulse.

Now that the internet is used to obtain a definition or word usage for a word, a word can change meaning in a nanosecond.  Within a few seconds, people around the world will have access to the new dictionary definition.

This presents problems.  First, not everyone searches the topic “new word definitions within the past day.”  By the way, if you do that, you will not get what we’ve been talking about.  Nearly every on-line dictionary has a “New Word of the Day” to expand people’s vocabularies and expose them to rarely used words, not words that have changed meaning three times since I started writing this post.

Another problem is that in having a worldwide resource and more and more countries using English as their business language, we are creating our own tower of Babel all over again (Genesis 11), and we are causing ourselves to fail in communication by alloying counter culture or splinter groups to create new meanings of words, using the internet for their cause while creating confusion in the general public.

May we never get to the point where this next sentence means anything other than what it has meant for roughly 2000 years.  “Jesus loves you.”

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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