A HOPE DICTIONARY
of CONCEPTS and Visions for the next millennium
Time makes ancient good uncouth
They must upward still and onwards
Who would keep abreast of truth
It is absurd that so many of the words we believe in today are used without knowing what they mean, or whether we all mean the same by them. Growth, globalisation, democracy, reform, development, even homosexual - all argued about, with ticks or crosses against their names, but with no agreed meaning. They may even be as euphemistic as 'ethnic cleansing' and 'collateral damage'. Words can enslave as often as they liberate. When the life in a word dies into a cliché people are enslaved by it.
Let's have some new words for a new century.
Words can be swords. Words can forge visions. New words can introduce new concepts - and so help to change the future. New words can introduce new concepts for a more optimistic, kindly and human-scale view of the world, to help it to be possible, or even imaginable. Many ideas that are needed hover in the wings because they lack the names to call them on to the stage.
Unless a language manages to have words for the sort of world we want to live in, it will be hard to make it any sort of reality, because the visions cannot be shared.
Most of the 40,000 words that Shakespeare is said to have invented are still in our language, bringing with them the new thought and perceptions of the 16th century Renaissance. set The legalistic Roman thought-forms in the Catholic Church were set by the 967 words that the writer Tertullian used or invented to translate Christian thinking from Hebrew and Greek into Latin.
A dictionary is a revealing place to find out about a culture - dip for example into a short dictionary of Scots to find what a pawky canny lot they were, with more words for different sorts of character than Eskimos have for snow.
Today new concepts constantly jump into the ring. The Oxford Dictionary of New Words is also a dictionary of new worlds, not just about technology. Some of these new words read like a decline in our civilisation, in the increased vocabulary for criminal behaviour, jargon, military euphemisms and sexual debasement.
Other concepts still need to be named in order to exist. The destructive myths that are given life by current concepts can be fought with concepts too. Consider the following as examples of entries for a revised 'Hope dictionary' - words which by their very naming might make people think in more constructive ways. They are all only suggestions only. You can think of better.
When a word becomes shorthand for a concept, the meaning of the concept itself can quietly change, now that it is hidden. Digging up the original meaning may be needed to revive the concept itself for our culture.
Debasement of the coinage occurs when good solid words invite innuendo when they are used because they have other meanings, that may have once only been secondary and for particular contexts but are now made almost primary - taking over in any context. Who dare use them in their best senses? I have researched how the concept of 'brave' has changed for children over past decades.
There is a constant trend to debase words, the currency we think with. As with money, the bad drives out the good. Good words in a language may start to accumulate meanings that are greyer, more destructive, oxymoron or double entendre - sely meant blessed and became silly, a villein was a farm laborer, a knave was a boy, anon meant at once. Teenage argot today often uses good words to mean their opposite, 'good' as 'bad' and vice versa, and there are words like grass, snow, fairy, queen, gay, cock, where the slang meaning can prevent use of the original meaning.
Some words to resurrect: -
Common Wealth. Keep its real meaning, which is the common good of all the people.
Golden Mean. This ancient Greek/Chinese/Judaic concept is still essential.
Heritage. Youth stands on the shoulders of giants. Wisdom is to keep the achievements while discerning and abandoning the foolishness.
Human nature to be seen as having potential for both good and evil. Whether or not behaviour is ultimately determined, we must act as if we have freewill in order be free..
Imagination. The ability to consider what may be possible, in real life, as well as in fantasy. This definition should be taken to heart in education, which is especially likely to think that while imagination is to be encouraged, this only means making up stories, or thinking up what is impossible. Imagination is the faculty by which we are enabled to have visions which can change our world. When schools think it can be applied only to impossible whimsies and fantasies, it is similar to restricting our gambling instinct to playing with money - instead of taking risks to improve our own lives and help society.
Intelligence is the ability to work out what to do in a situation - and includes the ability to work out what to do in an intelligence test. So people do develop different sorts of applied intelligence. This is a positive problem-solving concept. It covers all the abilities tested in IQ tests, but makes it clear that using your brain is not limited to academia.
Making Love - understood as a lasting mutual pleasure that is fruitful for the two partners in continuing their love, qualitatively different from having sex, screwing or bonking, which can require exacerbated physical behaviours to maintain sensation and stimulation. The change in the most common public words for intercourse show the changes in attitudes and behaviour from making love Æ having sexÆ screwing Æ bonking - the latter a more juvenile description than earlier sexual slang, and more like 9-year-olds behind the pavilion than relations between adult men and women. Bosom Æ to breasts Æ tits Æ boobs is a similar shift from romance to kidstuff.
Sentimentality Artificial emotion. The Victorians liked sweet and morbid sentimentality. Today the preference is for cruel and morbid sentimentality - which is more destructive. Sentimentality is not the same as poor quality writing or painting or acting - which can be absolutely sincere, but unfortunately incompetent and thus kitsch
Statesman is more than a politician
Talent - what you have been given to use, and you have no right to expect special credit for it - just because you have been given more intelligence or sporting potential or beauty. You can get credit for what you do with your talents, but do not consider yourself 'better' than anyone else, e.g. other classes lower and to receive little reward for their useful labor just because they are not so clever with paperwork, Sociodiversity is needed and diverse people are all to be valued for their contributions to us all. contrast Michael Young's class snobbery in the 'Rise of the Meritocracy'
Wisdom culture to aim for
We could also resurrect some of the 'Christian' words that have been cut out of modern Bible translations on the grounds that people no longer know what they mean. But without those words as secular terms accessible to common speech, we may not have the concepts either.
Abandoned from their texts, religious terms become brand-labels for perfumes.
Some further notes on modern vocabulary
Modern buzzwords include economic restructuring and micro-economic reform. Keating's word scumbags affects Australians' attitude to politicians. Twenty years ago, few knew the words rort, heist, scam, or called females raunchy or feisty.
Changes in attitudes are facilitated when intelligentsia is replaced with the chattering classes. The word and concept gentleman has been replaced with wimp. A person who has a new idea can be dismissed as a ratbag.
Some ideas are exiled because the words for them have become debased coinage. They cannot be used now without arousing nudge-nudge for their once secondary slang meaning for sex or the drug scene. Even the Gay Way can no longer be a children's reading scheme.
There are also the new words to justify terrible behavior - as in the military euphemisms in communiques about death and mass murder and torture.
'Oh, Liberty, what crimes are committed in your name!' is as true now as when Madame Roland said it on the scaffold (in French). 'Freedom' can means the freedom of the big fish to devour the small, the freedom of the global organizations to destroy local economies, the call for ethnic and religious groups to kill each other.
INVENT-A-WORD - There's an interesting competition for you. What new concept would you give flesh to, what vision could be seeded, in a strong and cheerful new word?
You could also invent new words to swear with, to change our present bland homogeneity of degrading sex and excretion.