Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Meaning of Words

As I was meandering across the internet this morning I happened across this pretty little article:

Not all terrorism: Obama tries to change subject

The article begins,

"President Barack Obama's advisers plan to remove terms such as "Islamic radicalism" from a document outlining national security strategy and will use the new version to emphasize that the U.S. does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terrorism, counterterrorism officials say."

The article goes on to talk about a variety of interesting points related to the changes being made as well as other topics such as vaccines and polio. Now, I know it may seem like President Obama is just playing with words and rhetoric to make it appear as if he were actually doing something (for those of you who believe that he isn't), but changing those simple words has more of an effect than most of us probably realize. I recognize that I'm not exactly an authority on politics, or even on linguistics, my chosen field of study, but it always amazes me how little credit most people give to the power of words.

Simply changing one word can change peoples' entire perspective on or attitude towards that subject. For example, it has always bugged me when people use the word "gay" as an adjective to describe something that is stupid or unfair. I realize that the history of the word goes back farther than its present state, but looking at the context of the word now, used most often to describe people who are homosexual, I hate that other people feel like it is alright to attach the connotation of stupid and unfair to homosexual. It just seems entirely disrespectful to me. Go ahead and believe whatever you want to, but respect other people's beliefs as well. Use words appropriately. Or at least try.

Anyway, in this case it isn't about sexual orientation or pejoration, but it is leaning in that direction. I just think it is pretty awesome that we are trying to step away from the stereotypes and trying to improve our foreign policy and respect different peoples as a whole. There will always be extremists but not everyone associated with those extremists are necessarily also extremists. That's a ridiculous thing to assume. In the case of this article we're trying to change our word choices to increase our respect for other religions and cultures. While the change of a word may not seem to have immediate results, and it probably won't, the long term results of that simple change are much more likely to be felt. It is more than the change of a word, it is the change of an entire perspective. Words reflect what is going on in our minds, and if we change those words we can potentially change our minds as well. And in this case, I don't think that would be such a bad thing.


  1. So true!! The words we use affect our day-to-day vision of reality.