Tucson shootings & political rhetoric

Conservative polemics are being blamed for the shooting in Tucson that critically wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed nine others, including a judge and a little girl. The killer shows clear symptoms of insanity, though, and was evidently motivated by schizophrenia rather than politics. And the liberals are ignoring their own history of demonizing their opponents and violent rhetoric. (There was a book, a play, and a movie fantasizing the assassination of George W. Bush.)

But still. . . .Do you think our polarized politics and the inflammatory rhetoric from both sides might have created a climate that could push a lunatic over the edge so that he actually does what many people have been advocating metaphorically? Or even if that is unlikely to happen, does our rhetoric create a negative ethos that is harmful to the country? Or is the problem greatly exaggerated? (We see great animosity in our entertainment media, but don’t we get along pretty well with our neighbors and family members despite political differences?)

Some lawmakers are proposing special laws against threats or symbols of threats (e.g., the tea-party cross-hairs targeting enemy politicians) against office holders or political figures.

Is there an ethical issue in the use of flamethrowing rhetoric? Does it violate the commandment against bearing false witness, as the Small Catechism defines it? (“We should fear and love God, so that we do not lie about, betray or slander our neighbor, but excuse him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”)

What do you think?

‘Huck Finn’ without the N-word

A new edition of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn will leave out all of the N-words, which have caused some people to charge the novel with racism, even though the point of the book is to combat racism.  From a CNN report:

What is a word worth? According to Publishers Weekly, NewSouth Books’ upcoming edition of Mark Twain’s seminal novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” will remove all instances of the N-word — I’ll give you a hint, it’s not nonesuch — present in the text and replace it with slave.

The new book will also remove usage of the word Injun. The effort is spearheaded by Twain expert Alan Gribben, who says his PC-ified version is not an attempt to neuter the classic but rather to update it.

“Race matters in these books,” Gribben told PW. “It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

Unsurprisingly, there are already those who are yelling “Censorship!” as well as others with thesauruses yelling “Bowdlerization!” and “Comstockery!”

Their position is understandable: Twain’s book has been one of the most often misunderstood novels of all time, continuously being accused of perpetuating the prejudiced attitudes it is criticizing, and it’s a little disheartening to see a cave-in to those who would ban a book simply because it requires context.

On the other hand, if this puts the book into the hands of kids who would not otherwise be allowed to read it due to forces beyond their control (overprotective parents and the school boards they frighten), then maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

via New edition of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ to lose the N-word – CNN.com.

So I wonder if those who support this bowdlerization would also support cutting out the profanity and the sex scenes from the modern novels taught in schools.  At any rate, what do you think about this?  Should a work of literary art be altered away from the author’s own words and intentions, if that work could thus be made palatable to more readers?

The Name of Jesus

New Year’s Day marks the day the baby Jesus was circumcised and given His name.  The name of Jesus, at which every knee shall bow, confesses His identity and His purpose.  In fact, though some people claim Jesus is just a moral example, His very name confesses the Gospel.  Let’s let Rev. William Weedon tell you about the name of Jesus:

You can’t read very far along in the Sacred Scriptures before you notice what a big thing this “naming” is – Adam, naming the beasties in Eden; God changing people’s names – Abram to Abraham; God instructing His priests, as in today’s first reading, in how to put His name upon the people “and I will bless them.” Names in the Bible are anything but a distinguishing tag so you don’t get Johnny confused with Jimmy. They are revelatory – they disclose a person’s proper relation to God Himself or God’s own relation to people.

So the big deal of the name given THIS day, only name given under heaven by which we must be saved: Jesus. For this name is shared by God and Man – He who is one person in two natures bears this name and it discloses the innermost ache of the divine heart: to save. Jesus means Yahweh saves.

His desire is to save you, to rescue you, to deliver you from bondage to sin, from all that makes your life bitter and miserable by your own doing or from that of others. “Save” in Greek implies also “heal.” He wants to heal you, to restore you, to bring you into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

For, as St. Paul in today’s epistle points out: “before faith came we were held captive under the law.” Satan has us by rights. And the law – that immutable expression of the divine will for all human life – well, all it could do was inform us of what we were not – and thus accuse us for not living as we ought. The Law condemns – not because the Law is bad, but because the Law is good, and we sadly, by birth are not.

But good news! Yahweh saves.

via Weedon’s Blog.

Ngrams

You’ve got to check out the Google Ngram Viewer.  It allows you to tabulate, in the form of a graph, the number of times a word or phrase is mentioned in the vast number of titles in Google Books, from 1500-2000.   Those periods of time are statistically evened out, so that the far greater number of titles available in the last few decades does not overwhelm the relatively fewer number of titles in earlier centuries.

This allows users to explore trends in the history of ideas, language, and culture.  For example, go to the linked site and type in “Christ.” (Note the decline.)  “Boredom.”  (Was no one bored until the modern era?)  Do a comparison by typing in two terms:  Try “reason” and “culture.”  (Notice how “culture” hardly existed as a concept until a few decades ago, but now it has passed “reason,” which had its heyday just after the Enlightenment, as we would expect.  This might make us wonder how long “culture” will last.)

At the site read “About Google Books NGram Viewer” to see what all else it will do.  (It can be narrowed down in some very useful ways.)

Play around with it and post your discoveries here.

HT:  tODD

How words are invented

We had an interesting discussion about the post a few days ago about how the blind Puritan poet John Milton contributed more new words to the English language than anyone else.  Some people asked questions along the line of “how come he can make up new words and I can’t?”  Or “how come he can use words as different parts of speech and my mean old English teacher marked me down every time I tried it?”  It was also observed that new words are entering the English language all the time.  I realized that the process of coming up with new words is not generally understood.  So I will put on my English professor hat and explain. . . .

First of all, there needs to be a need for a new word, a “semantic space” in the language that needs to be filled.  Let’s use some of Milton’s words as examples.  His day, like ours, had a lot of “worship wars” in the Church of England.  The word “liturgy” existed.  But, earlier, that was pretty much the only kind of worship there was.  There was a need for an adjectival form of that word to distinguish that type of worship from the alternatives.  So Milton turned the existing noun into an adjective by adding a Latin adjectival ending.  Hence a new word that we use today in our own worship wars:  “liturgical.”

An even better, because more poetic, example:  The new Copernican cosmology meant that the earth and the planets spin around in a vast void.  In Paradise Lost, Milton needed to write about Satan flying to earth.  Dante in the Middle Ages had imagined Hell as existing in the center of the earth.  Milton imagines it more like another planet.  The word “space” existed to refer to expanse, area, extent.  Milton took that word and made it refer to the realm beyond earth’s atmosphere.  Satan flew through “space.”  What great poetry!  Imagine hearing that poetic image for the first time.  But now we have a new word, one that names something that was nameless before.

This process still continues.  New inventions require new words.  Like Milton, we to this day tend to go back to the classical languages for help in coining them.   “Computer” is from the Latin.  “Telephone” and “Television” are from the Greek.  (This is why it is so helpful to learn Latin.  You can decode just about any English “hard word.”) “Internet” combines a venerable English word “net,” associated with the already metaphorical “network,” to describe poetically a complex set of interconnections.   Then was added the Latin preposition “inter.”  Voila.  We have a new word.  “Facebook” combines two existing words into a new one.  “Google” takes a whimsical name for a really big number for a company, and then it was morphed into a verb.

It isn’t always clear who the mute inglorious Miltons were (name that allusion) who first came up with the new words that come into existence today.  But the process goes back to Adam:  God brought creatures to Adam, whereupon he named them.

Milton the wordmaker

I did not know this about John Milton, one of my favorite authors.  The 17th century blind Puritan poetic genius contributed more new words to the English language than anyone else:

According to Gavin Alexander, lecturer in English at Cambridge university and fellow of Milton’s alma mater, Christ’s College, who has trawled the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) for evidence, Milton is responsible for introducing some 630 words to the English language, making him the country’s greatest neologist, ahead of Ben Jonson with 558, John Donne with 342 and Shakespeare with 229. Without the great poet there would be no liturgical, debauchery, besottedly, unhealthily, padlock, dismissive, terrific, embellishing, fragrance, didactic or love-lorn. And certainly no complacency.

“The OED does tend to privilege famous writers with first usage,” Alexander admits, “and early-modern English – a composite of Germanic and Romance languages – was ripe for innovation. If you couldn’t think of a word, you could just make one up, ideally based on a term from French or Latin that others educated in those languages would understand. Yet, by any standards, Milton was an extraordinary linguist and his freedom with language can be related to his advocacy of personal, political and religious freedoms.”

Milton’s coinages can be loosely divided into five categories. A new meaning for an existing word – he was the first to use space to mean “outer space”; a new form of an existing word, by making a noun from a verb or a verb from an adjective, such as stunning and literalism; negative forms, such as unprincipled, unaccountable and irresponsible – he was especially fond of these, with 135 entries beginning with un-; new compounds, such as arch-fiend and self-delusion; and completely new words, such as pandemonium and sensuous.

Not that Milton got things all his own way. Some of his words, such as intervolve (to wind within each other) and opiniastrous (opinionated), never quite made it into regular usage – which feels like our loss rather than his.

via John Crace on Milton’s contribution to the english language | UK news | The Guardian.

The man could speak Latin and Greek like his native tongue, and he was fluent in virtually all of the European languages. So when he wanted to express something, the exact word came to him, even though it didn’t exist before.

HT: Joe Carter


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