Opinion: Self-defining renders us powerless

Alexandra Lisa | Staff Writer

I do not know when this trend of self-defining words started, but it has to stop.

As someone whose entire life revolves around words and the power they hold, from everyday conversation to the books I read to the articles I write, I find it baffling that so many people find it so difficult to comprehend that every word has a strict definition. There are rules as to how you use a word, very simple rules…really, only one rule: use it according to what it means. No one can decide that a word means something it does not.

This is most popular, evidently, on social media outlets, where people feel the need to educate others on what a word “really” means, because apparently, the dictionary is wrong, and they graduated their university with a doctorate in real-word-meaning.

The example of this which I saw most recently was an individual who posted that racism “is the discrimination of, or stereotypes held towards, a person of color.” The actual definition, as stated in the dictionary, is “The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” There is a key difference in these two definition which makes a detrimental difference. The first specifies that racism can only be inflicted on certain people, which is false. When we begin to pretend something is true when it is not, we endanger the world around us. In this situation, we promote the idea that people of color, whoever you interpret that includes, cannot be racist. When we believe a person cannot be racist, and we dismiss certain forms of racist, we allow the problem as a whole to grow.

In simplest terms, we will never get the majority of people to support an idea which changes from person to person. If we do not take a word seriously, people will not take any movement associated with the word seriously. If we argue that a phrase is racist coming out of one person’s mouth, but not from someone else’s, that very word “racism” loses credibility. When vocabulary, when something as fundamental to society as the tools for speech, loses credibility, we lose. We, as a people, lose everything, because our speech is the most powerful tool any of us have in the current state of the world.

And if you can not see it in the way the word “racism” is interpreted, look instead at “feminism.” Feminism is defined by the dictionary as “The advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” However, some people choose to instead define it as the belief that women are greater than men, which makes something that should be straight-forward suddenly controversial. It should be widely accepted that men and women are equal, but something as ridiculous as “choosing” the word means something else puts up a barricade and shoves progress to a standstill. People who support gender equality do not call themselves feminists, and so the entire feminism movement loses power.

If that still doesn’t sit well with you, look instead at the famous term “fake news” which was so graciously started by our current President. Fake news does exist. It is real. It exists in retaliation against both parties, and it has to be stopped. However, “fake news” applies to news stories which promote lies…as in things that are not true. It is not something that can be interpreted, because it is either proven to be fake or real based off of facts. Facts are not up for debate. They are, or they are not. If there is a story about how Mike Pence blew up a small town in India, and he didn’t, that’s fake news, because it is made of lies. If there is a story about how Donald Trump threatened to assault a woman, and there’s video evidence showing that he did, then it is not fake news, because it is real, because we can prove it actually happened. With proof. You know, something that is not negotiable.

I understand that everyone interprets certain meanings different ways. But to altogether claim that a word means something different from what it means is to ruin the very authority granted through the freedom of speech, written down or spoken aloud. When it becomes acceptable, regarding any word, to change definitions according to what we believe is accurate as opposed to what is truly accurate, stability in the very language we speak is given up. Suddenly, anything can be twisted around, can be interpreted in any direction, can be supported and shunned in fifty different ways by each individual.

Words are incredible because, with the right ones, a person can cut deep. They are the strongest weapon in the citizen’s arsenal. You may think you’re being revolutionary when you redefine a word, but what you are really doing is breaking your sword, rendering it useless.

Rendering us powerless.