One commenter asked me if words can change their meaning over time. Of course they can. The problem is that communication becomes imperiled when they do if we're not careful. Let me give you a fictional exchange and see if you can understand my dilemma.I want to point out that there is more than one reason I wrote this then and is one of the reasons I reissued it now. I give, here, three definitions of "marriage". The first is the original. The last is the current. The middle is the one that most people my age grew up with. I want to point out that the middle is wrong -- just as wrong as the last. The secondary difficulty of the change in definition of "marriage" to today's "whatever" is that people -- even Christians who have a Book that gives them God's version of the concept -- don't recognize that the second definition is just as mistaken as the third. Very few -- woefully few -- people today recognize that the first was God's version and has been the version of "marriage" recognized throughout history up until the last half of the 20th century. Is yours the first or somewhere in between?
I'm at a gathering of some sort ... you know, an ice breaker. A guy comes up to me and we strike up a conversation. He tells me he's married. Okay, here's what I know about this guy. He is connected to a woman who lives in the same house as he does and sleeps in the same bed with him. He is actively involved in advancing the needs of our society by making a permanent home, a stable environment suitable for the rearing of children. He either already has children or will have children barring any unforeseen, unfortunate event that might prevent it because children are the natural and right result of marriage. He will be married to this same woman for the rest of his or her life because marriage is "'til death do us part."
"Oh, no," he tells me, " I meant the more modern term."
Oh, I'm sorry. My mistake. Now what do I know? Well, he is connected to a woman who likely lives in the same house he does and shares his bed. They may or may not have children in mind. Lots of people these days have decided that children can be an unpleasant by-product of marriage. And I can't really say for how long he'll be with this woman because the divorce rate is something over 50% by now.
"No," he corrects me again, "I meant in the June, 2015 sense."
Ooohhh, I'm so sorry. I completely misunderstood. I've got it now. He is a guy who is connected in some sense or another to another person. Children aren't really a consideration in the question. And who knows how long this relationship will last? Essentially, then, I only know that he's a guy. Wait! Maybe I'd better ask about that ...
You see, as the longstanding, traditional definition of marriage has deteriorated, so has its usefulness. As we expand the meaning of a word, we tend to end up making it mean less and less because it has too many meanings to be of any value. When marriage meant a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman that would in all probability include children, there was meaning ... and value. Now? Not so much. And as the word has deflated in meaning, we've lost the ability to properly communicate the original intent. So how is this progress?
Wednesday, September 07, 2016
A Failure to Communicate - Reprise
I was talking to someone recently who commented that they liked my entry titled "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" on August 27th. We spoke briefly about being held hostage by the use of language and how we have to conform to a moving target. I thought then of this entry. I posted it originally way back in June of 2008 when the question of the redefinition of marriage was raising its ugly head in California. I tried here to illustrate the difficulty of changing what words mean. In this case, the word is "marriage". (Note: I changed the date from the original from "June, 2008" to "June, 2015". I think you can guess why.)