For the Love of…

I can’t say I truly love language. If I did, I would have spent a lifetime studying more than my native tongue and digging deeper into its intricacies. If anything, when I write, I do so largely by instinct. I can define few of its rules such as “dangling participle” without having to look it up first.

I can, however, say I love the idea of it. I love how it can be used as a weapon as easily as it can heal. It brings people together, encourages creativity. It also causes wars and strife.

God loves language. He created the universe by speaking it into existence (Genesis 1:1-31 & Ps. 33:6). One of Jesus’ names is the Word of God (John 1). Scripture warns us of its power to destroy as well as create (see Proverbs 11:9, 15:4, 16:24 & 18:21).

Yesterday while perusing Netflix, I saw the description of the movie (based on the book by the same name), “The Professor and the Madman” (2019): “Completing the first dictionary will take a bit of smarts and a bit of madness. The words will come eventually,” I was of course intrigued. It’s about how the Oxford Dictionary was first written, the challenges of such a massive endeavor, and how it nearly failed without the help of a criminally insane murderer who alone submitted over 10,000 words.

Mel Gibson plays the professor and Sean Penn plays the madman. Incredibly acted by both, and the dialog alone is fantastic. One quote in particular stuck with me:

“… for every word in action becomes beautiful in the light of its own meaning.”

Words matter; their definitions equally so. Because without their definitions including their etymology (origin), they become flat if not ultimately meaningless—a bunch of letters strung together and nothing else.

Which is why I get particularly grumpy when people (especially our government and other powers that be—including the current Oxford Dictionary publisher, ironically enough) try to erase or ban words, or change their meaning to either make them meaningless or the direct opposite of their origin.

We must protect words and their definition/origins as we would anything else we hold dear, because without language, we can no longer call ourselves human.

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