Fashioning a Prison of Twisted Words

By:  Thomas R. Eddlem
04/29/2013
       
Fashioning a Prison of Twisted Words

There is an absolute truth, and words have specific, fixed meanings. This isn’t to say that words can’t acquire new meanings over time. But the whole point of using words is to convey a fixed and unchanging meaning.

Usually we’d go through several back-and-forths in the game, with my twisted logic getting more and more outrageous with each iteration: “How can you tell your eyes are brown? You can’t see your own eyes, but I can see your eyes with mine,” I would tell them with an obvious smirk. “Shouldn’t you take my word for it?”

While my older two would playfully contradict me, my youngest would earnestly employ solid logic, such as “I can see my eyes in the mirror.”

Just at the point they showed the slightest irritation at the game (it had to stay fun), I’d appear to agree with them, and then twist it back: “You’re right. You’re right that you believe your eyes are brown. But I now believe they are green. And your opinion is no more valuable than mine, right? Can you agree that my view that they are green is just as important as your belief they are brown?”

By that point, they’d had enough. “No,” they’d always reply with a hint of anger, “they’re brown!” Kids are unlike adults in that they a low tolerance for being lied to, even if it's a short, silly game.

“Of course you’re right,” I replied, finishing the game. “Your eyes are brown. And don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.”

The lesson taught them two essential things: There is an absolute truth, and words have specific, fixed meanings. This isn’t to say that words can’t acquire new meanings over time. But the whole point of using words is to convey a fixed and unchanging meaning.

Few Americans would deny that speaking the truth is an important virtue. Yet we rarely think about the assumption behind the statement “speak the truth.” And that is: In order to be able to even speak of a concept such as “truth,” words must have fixed and objective meaning. If words mean only what we want them to mean, or if we can change their meanings at whim through opinion or point of view, then it’s impossible to even discuss a phrase such as “speak the truth.”

All higher learning is based upon fixed and specific meaning in words. What good would mathematical calculations be if “3” could mean “4” or, for that matter, “orange” or “Thursday”? The redefinition of words is where the dumbing down of our society really begins, and where the most powerful kind of lies are told to the American people.

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