Have you noticed that once widely available words have been appropriated and winnowed down to the most streamlined of meaning? Take the word; family, for instance. Family once meant people one was connected to who did not fall into the category of friends. Hence the phrase; friends and family. Family could mean one’s family of origin, including generations past. Family could also reference those brought into the holiday fold year after year. Family could also be self-constructed, augmenting a loss of familial connections. The word was open to subtle interpretations but maintained a overall meaning of connectivity. These days you might hear several phrases touting the word ‘family’ that have nothing to do with human connection. For instance:
- Family Values – Whose family values? Have you MET my family!? Or do you really mean ‘conservative values?’
- Family Friendly – I think the phrase you may be searching for is “Child-centric” no? I assure you, your themed restaurant is not friendly to my family, it is our 7th circle of hell.
- Working Families – Now if the children are actually grabbing their briefcase and headed for the 7:15, you have my full support.
Of course the same wholesale take-over of terminology is not new. “Faith” and “patriotism” have come to mean very specific beliefs and practices. Believing in the potential of human beings to be their best selves and to reach out and help up is a definition of faith. Believing that how we treat others is directly connected to the health of our souls is faith. But when we hear the word being bandied about it’s meant to communicate an adherence to an organized religion. When we hear calls of “patriotism” it most often is in reference to military support or flag waving. Those fighting; to separate church and state, or for freedom of speech or press are rarely referred to as patriots.
Politics and verity make strange bedfellows, that’s certain. But there’s no reason in the world the rest of us need follow and adopt the constricting definitions. Language is many things, including contagious. If we commit to using terminology that strikes us as more accurate or inclusive, others may very well follow. Our words are the most lasting and telling clues to our inner self. Our ability to create meaningful language is what in fact makes us human.