What I meant was….

What’s in a word? A lot of power. We use words to convey meaning, express ourselves and engage one another. It is nearly impossible to communicate when the person speaking has a much different understanding of the meaning of the words than those who are hearing or reading it. Words are not only important but their definitions, meanings, context and even connotation are very important.

Plato spends a significant portion of his time in The Republic defining the meanings of words such as wisdom and virtue. Political Philosophy after all is the pursuit of or love for wisdom. If we are going to strive for wisdom we must first define what it is. Many Occupiers have also expressed the importance of words and their meanings. Out of the Car and Into the Streets. Comrade. Occupy. Decolonize.

It has become abundantly clear that the meanings of words matter. While some Occupiers use the term Comrade in and endearing way, other Occupiers have made it clear this term makes them very uncomfortable. We’re Not Comrades, by Tim Fong.

In her piece the Word is Mightier than the Sword Jentropy points out that expecting people to get out of their car, from behind their computer or out of their apartment and on to the street is passing normalizing judgment where one may not have the information or right to do so. This statement assumes that only the people Occupying the streets are valued or effective. That if you are not on the street you are not really trying, you must be lazy or complacent. As Jentrophy noted, this argument ignores the many obstacles that Occupiers may face in taking the streets from physical and mental disabilities to familial and financial obligations. See OWD.

There are Occupiers who have cast off the term ‘Occupy’ arguing that this land is already Occupied and instead needs to be Decolonized.  Some feminists argue political philosophy and language in general is hetero and male dominated and a new language needs to be developed (Monique Wittig). I know that the same could also be argued for POC who are marginalized and stereotyped by the MSM. Many of these arguments are great arguments and insightful pieces to read. My goal is not to argue the true definitions or meaning of these words or what context in which they should or should not be used. What I want to know is, at what point does the importance of the word end and the importance of the meaning begin? We know words matter. We know words construct and destruct. Words shape ideas and theories. Without the proper knowledge of words, definition, meaning, context, and even connotation it seems as though lines of communication begin to get confused if not completely break down.

How much power do we choose to give to words, to their meaning and to their context? Do we judge based on the intended use of the word or the true meaning? And what is the true meaning? As at times the intended meaning is far from the interpretation. Also, many words have various origins, meanings and connotations. Comrade is a good example of this. Some words are clear with their origin, connotation, built in judgment and hate and others are not so clearly defined or understood. Do we get mad if one knows that in fact the true meaning of the word is malicious and uses it anyway? Do we know what the true definition is and if it was intended to be malicious? At times this is beyond obvious.

There is racist, sexist and homophobic among various other types of hate speech permeating the American culture. When it is not clearly hate speech or malicious and much more nuanced as with the terms Occupy and Comrade where are the lines drawn? Further, what about repressive speech that hasn’t been recognized as such yet as it is so ingrained in our society? And beyond words what about symbols like the American Flag which has so many different meanings to so many different people?

I do not have the answer to these questions but am seeing the issue being raised constantly throughout this movement and I think it’s important to keep the lines of communication open and this discussion going.


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