What’s in a Word?

December Sunrise
December Sunrise

“The mind that opens up to a new idea never returns to its original size.” – Albert Einstein

“We don’t have to agree on anything to be kind to one another.” – Janis Ian

“If man understood that ‘what I create has nothing to do with what anybody else is creating’ then he wouldn’t be so afraid of what others are doing.” – Abraham

“People who are given whatever they want soon develop a sense of entitlement and rapidly lose their sense of proportion.” – Sarah Churchwell

I have a double major BA, Religious Studies and Theatre and Speech, and I have a MA in Theater Arts. I don’t write that to brag. I write it to let you know that I have lots of experience with the use of words and how they can be used to bend a group of people to a certain point of view.

Words are symbols for ideas. Duh, you might say, but there are two different meanings ascribed to the words we use. There is the denotative, or dictionary meaning and there is the connotative meaning, or the meaning we attach to a word. Some words set off deep emotions within us. And sometimes those emotions are used to bend us to a certain point of view. The people who are doing the bending, don’t always have our best interests at heart. In fact, most of the time they don’t.

Let me give you some examples of words that have been given a new connotative meaning through propaganda. Patriot, liberal, conservative, and entitlement. Those are words we twist in propaganda messages to attack those we don’t like or want to keep in a weakened position. I guess, in that case, we should include in the list, propaganda and persuasion. They are both very powerful ways to sway people to your way of thinking, but they use very different tactics. Look up the words patriot, liberal, conservative, and entitlement for yourself. What does the dictionary say they mean? And do they mean what you think they mean?

I would like to comment on the difference between persuasion and propaganda. When I taught English, we studied the difference between propaganda and persuasion. I wanted my students to begin to think critically about the messages they get through the media.

Persuade: 2. to induce to believe by appealing to reason or understanding; convince.

Propaganda: 1. information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc. 2. the deliberate spreading of such information, rumors, etc.

The difference between persuasion and propaganda is clear in the dictionary meanings. But it seems to me that most people don’t do the critical thinking necessary to determine whether what is said in the media, by politicians, the clergy, the business person, banker, or clerk at the grocery store is in fact using persuasion or propaganda.

And that brings me to the current unrest in the world. Accusations are hurled like swarms of bees, but is the buzz the words make true or is it manufactured? Have you bothered to investigate what’s being said? We’re at a critical time in human history where we can destroy ourselves or we can change the world for the better. Which do you hope for? If you want the world to be a peaceful, loving place in which to live, then you need to start to examine the ideas expressed in the books and articles you read, the news you listen to, and even the things your friends say. Our country was founded on debate, but it doesn’t help if you only listen to the words that make you feel comfortable, or that support the way you’ve been indoctrinated to think.

One of my favorite movies is The American President, written by Aaron Sorkin. In that movie two characters, the president, and one of his aides are arguing about whether or not the president should make counter comments to the attacks by the man who is his primary challenger for president in the next election. President Shepard says, “Lewis, we’ve had presidents who were beloved, who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. The drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.”

I urge you not to be one of the ones who doesn’t know the difference between the sand and the water. I hope you’re someone who questions everything you read and hear that have to do with the myriad of important issues we face. Examine not only the meaning behind the words people use, but their intent in using them. We can’t afford to be lazy and let things happen to us. We need to be challenging the way we think so we can create a new way of being in the world with our new thoughts.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015


Published by lucindasagemidgorden

I grew up in the West, the descendant of people traveling by wagon train to a new life. Some of their determination and wanderlust became a part of me. I imagine them sitting around the campfire telling stories, which is why I became first a theatre artist, then a teacher and now a writer. They are all ways of telling stories.

2 thoughts on “What’s in a Word?

    1. Thanks Julie, I was thinking it might be a tad didactic. However, I have to remind myself to do my research and think more deeply about events.

      Liked by 1 person

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