On Loaded Words. Sounds fascinating, doesn’t it?

I’ll warn you, this post is not proofread. Reader beware.

You can thank OCD for this post; it’s 5am but apparently a long rant about language (again) is much more important than sleep.

Two words stuck in my head today/tonight/this morning (whatever it wants to be called): “closeminded” and “openminded.”

These words need to leave, now. It’s time for them and their ilk to go the way of “groovy” and “yikes.” They’re uselessly cluttering our language and making for some confusing conversations.

At first when I thought about the nonsense of these two words, I thought they were just overused and therefore had become meaningless. And yeah, they are both those things, but that’s not even half the problem.

The real problem is the fact that we as subcultures have packed these words full of our own subtle meanings and ideas and connotations and implications that they’re ready to EXPLODE!

Time for a small tangent that may or may not have anything to do with the rest of this post:

A couple months ago I was privileged enough to see loaded language (that’s almost definitely not an real term; I just like to make stuff up) in all its horribly confusing glory. I went to an introductory class (more accurately, a three-hour sales pitch) for something called the Landmark Forum.

It’s a little hard to explain what Landmark is if you don’t already know. It’s been compared to a cult, but it isn’t religious – I’ve heard it described as “emotional bootcamp.” It’s an intense course (length of time varies by program) aimed at self-realization and betterment.

Not the point. The point is, about a half hour into this class/lecture/graduation/whatever, I started getting very confused when the seminar leader would talk directly to the “students.” I quickly realized it was because certain words they were using had clear meanings to them, but not anything you’d find in the dictionary entry. “Breakdown,” which I always used to mean either “crying jag” or occasionally “confusion” (e.g. a breakdown in communication) to them meant “something you wanted or expected, but did not receive.”

There were many of these. So many words I’d trusted and taken for granted suddenly turned on me, making the words of the initiated nearly incomprehensible. I found myself wishing for a Forum-to-English translation pamphlet.

I decided it was an efficient, if irritating, system. Complex concepts, which would normally have taken five minutes to explain, were expressed in five words. Brand-new ideas were pushed into familiar words to ease the transition into the brain.

This system works just fine if everyone knows what it is. If they don’t, they end up with nasty headaches, wolfing down candy bars and wondering who to tell about a missing crystal on the chandelier because they stopped paying attention to anything else ten minutes ago (this experience may not be universal).

I think the tangent might be over.

The point of it was that some words become more than their intended meanings; shades are added to them over time in different groups.

I say the name “Adolph Hitler.” Not an inherently bad name, maybe a little dull, but not offensive by nature.

Without cultural connotations hanging off of it like pigs on meathooks, that is.

But inevitably, if I say “Adolph Hitler” to anyone in the world with a third-grade education or an internet connection, they don’t hear “Adolph Hitler.” They hear “NAZIS WORLD WAR GENOCIDE HOLOCAUST EUGENICS RACIAL PURITY BOMBS INDIANA JONES” (again, that last one may not be universal).

That, my nonexistent readers, is loaded language.

Back to my original pet peeve.

An atheist and a Christian are arguing. (I swear, this is not a joke setup although now I kind of wish it was because that would be probably more interesting so sorry guys.) The atheist eventually accuses the Christian of being close-minded, and the Christian does likewise. (And let’s face it, Hitler will probably enter that conversation somehow. He always does.) And the funny thing is, from their respective points of view, they’re both absolutely right.

The Christian thought the atheist was close-minded for not accepting anything beyond the tangible and provable. To him, an open mind is one that can believe unlikely things.

The atheist thought the Christian was close-minded for accepting (perhaps without argument) what he sees as outdated dogma. To him, an open mind is one that explores and considers ideas that might be new or uncomfortable without shutting them out.

In their minds, it’s obvious. They don’t understand why the other one doesn’t catch the meaning of the word, a meaning always taken as read by their own subcultures. The different sides have made their own meanings, making the actual word… useless.

I know there are about 1000 other words like this, but this is the one that jumped to mind. Feel free to offer any others you’ve heard become so loaded they’re unrecognizable.

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One thought on “On Loaded Words. Sounds fascinating, doesn’t it?

  1. Mummy January 1, 2012 / 3:52 PM

    I could read your “ramblings” any time, any place, any where…. Another good one.

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