The Etymology Wars

Posted on April 9, 2021


Today the old is being replaced by the new, a necessary stage we are told by scholars of revolutions that has to take place before the revolution can succeed. It is an attempt to replace ancient and accepted truths with the “new” truth. Simply put, old words are given new meanings, or new words are invented to replace the ancient and accepted truths with the “new” truth.

The examples are all over the place, giving some truth to the adage that if you repeat a lie often enough, people begin to believe it is true.  Or, as it sometimes is attributed to Mark Twain, “a lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Winston Churchill quoted it occasionally since it has a lot of truth to it, and Churchill was a purveyor of truth as he saw it.

Now, read that carefully. Truth as he saw it. You may be thinking, old Clayton has flipped his lid: truth is truth. There can’t be “your truth,” “my truth,” and truth in some other place. But there is a war of words ongoing in our country, and they are simply the scouts and outriders of the main army coming down the road to throw out the old and replace it with the new.

Two thousand years ago, the Roman Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, interrogated Jesus Christ who was accused by the Jews of blasphemy and treason, and at the end of the questioning, threw up his hands and said, “what is truth?” This man did nothing against the emperor and empire, and he let him go.

Ok, just checking to see if you are reading. Pilate did not let Jesus go and the rest is history, or theology. And this is Easter weekend, so be bright and follow not only the words, but the actions.

All revolutions, from ours in the eighteenth century, to the latest ones in places like Venezuela and Cuba, have to invent a new vocabulary before putting up the barricades in the cities, or torch some blocks as Antifa is doing today. You have to have some meaning to your actions. Antifites can be tracked down, arrested, and tried. We haven’t lost the ability to preserve order, but we are losing the war of will, which is expressed in who has the high ground in words. Who is morally right, and who is not? Who is lying, and who is not?

Black lives matter, for example, is more than a simple slogan. Sure, black lives matter. So does all life. It is precious in the sight of God, and life should be precious always, to all people. But the BLM movement is not just some old words with new meanings. It is a challenge to the old way of looking at the world. Even “black” arose to replace another phrase, “people of color”, which then also existed in another form, “African American,” which had replaced “Negro”, or the more common way of saying it, which I’ll spare you. You all know it.

But wait, you all don’t know it because it has been expunged (nice word) from our history. In fact, your new history is not my history. We are not only waging a war of etymology, but we are also having an historical war, for who rules the historical record indeed rules the nation as we know it.

Adolph Hitler won the war of words—hate words by the way—in the 1930s and led the German people into war based on the truth of his beliefs. Six million Jews perished because they were labeled and smeared with hate.

Joseph Stalin did the same in the old Soviet Union. He sacrificed millions of fellow Russians in the 1930s to a truth: The State must triumph to fulfill its destiny. He won the war of words and the Soviet Union lasted for more than a half century, until around 1990.

Today, in this war of words, our country’s history is being described as nothing more than a racist rant against black slaves and their freed descendants since the Civil War. “Systemic racism” has governed us, as viewed by the new warriors of words; forget liberty, freedom, Christianity, the rule of law, etc. etc. They’re just words used to preserve white pride, privilege, and power.

Words not only prefigure new changes, some very revolutionary ones, but also have a powerful staying power. You can try to “cancel” liberty and freedom and replace them with “racial and sexual justice” just for example. If you persuade most people to subscribe to “sexual justice” as more important than “liberty” in their daily lives, you may be well on your way to paving the way for true political and even military revolution. But the blowback, not only in words, but in actions can be more powerful than the revolutionary sentiments driving the first etymological wedges. Liberty may the hardest word–its meaning and application–for today’s “wokes” to overcome.

And into this equation, let me remind you of the greatest wordsmith of all, on Easter Sunday.

He is Risen.

Indeed, he is risen and by his life, and words, taught us all the truth of His Father’s world and what it means for each of us.

Published as “War of words seeks to replace the old with the new” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, April 4, 2021.

Posted in: History