tue 03 feb 2009 23:55:01 witte de withstraat
as we were leaving eijlders on monday night, dvr told me that sometimes a discussion can be confounded if the talkers mean different things by the same word. this can be a problem with talking to me sometimes, where i may be a purist about the meaning of a word which i think has been stolen or corrupted in popular usage.
example: when i use the word "extremist" or "radical" or "fundamentalist" i don't mean something good or bad by it, whereas in popular usage those terms have negative connotations. to me, extreme just means of the extremity, and radical means of the root, and fundamental just means of the basis. unlike the cognitive middle of my society, i have no problem at all with someone being an extremist, a radical, or a fundamentalist -- as long as the thing they're being extreme, radical or fundamental about is a good thing.
i guess this can make me sometimes difficult to understand.
the same thing would happen if i used the word "random" in a conversation with a contemporary american teenager. in current teenspeak that word means something more like "weird", or "excusably and sometimes enjoyably weird". then again, if i used the word "weird" in a conversation from someone speaking english three or four hundred years ago, they would think i was using a noun for something like "fate".
dvr pointed out that what we can call "semantic slide" is perfectly natural and good. and i agree. much of it is totally harmless. i have no problem if the word "blue" means something different since last year.
it's just that there are some areas of thought in which i am personally at war with the popular concept itself. those are the places where i tend to fight to take the concept back, or defend it from degradation.
the truth is that i tend to think it's better for people to be extreme, rather than to be bland or jan-modaalistic about their sentiments. when someone is extreme, then you know what they're really about. it seems somehow more honest to my simple mind. i like extremism, but i prefer people to be extremely good rather than extremely bad. to me, the goodness doesn't arise from the degree of a person's sentiment, but from the nature of their sentiment.
so being of that mind, i would have no more use for a moderate racist than i would have for an extreme one.
pani came over tonight for sushi, and i asked her what was the linguistic term for when meanings gradually change. the best she could come up with is "semantic slide", which i guess translates from polish. good enough for me, so that's what i'm calling it for now.
what she did point out, illuminatingly, was that "we're constantly negotiating for the meanings" of words, and sometimes one meaning put forth gets a bigger share of attention for a while ... something like that. it makes perfect sense then in the context of a struggle for memetic ascendancy. which is of course what i was born to engage in.
i'm glad that talking to people makes me think.