Letter to the Editor: Language, when inflated, loses its value


Heralding the dawn of the Internet, a public service announcement once assured us that, for those online, there are no bodies, no physical disadvantages; there is no gender, no race; “there are only minds.”

Similarly, for some advocates of gay marriage, there are only rights. They neglect to consider that language meshes with our lives to an extent that prompted the philosopher Wittgenstein to declare “Words are deeds.”

How jarring it is to those of us over 30 to hear familiar tags hung on radically different ways of living. How different, for example, is the reaction of modern people to the word “gay” from what it was a mere 60 years ago, when gay generally meant happy in a sociable sort of way. Alone, one could be cheerful or content, but one could be gay only with others.

Marriage was once the legal union of a man and a woman. If words are deeds, unless we coin new words to fit new practices, we are doing nothing less than decanting our new wine into old bottles.

Language has been described as the currency of thought, its medium of exchange. And like currency, language, when inflated, loses value. When words begin to mean just about anything, they may end up meaning nothing.

John Clem, Edinburg