‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’ (Through the Looking-Glass – Chapter Six)
I was in Arkansas the year that then-governor Mike Huckabee refused to sign a tornado relief bill because he objected to the conventional term act of God:
act of God – “uncontrollable natural force” first recorded 1882. (Online Etymology Dictionary)
On December 31, 2007. the Los Angeles Times reminded the nation of this incident in an article that has stirred up a lot of blog commentary.
In order to mitigate fears that the Baptist presidential hopeful would permit his religious beliefs to interfere with decisions of state, Huckabee apologists have come to his defense. They argue that Huckabee merely wanted to change the terminology so that insurance companies would pay.
According to a NY Times story dated March 21, 1997, however, Huckabee refused to sign the bill because doing so would violate his conscience:
Mr. Huckabee said that signing the legislation ”would be violating my own conscience” inasmuch as it described ”a destructive and deadly force as being ‘an act of God.’ ” Mr. Huckabee…suggested that the phrase ”acts of God” be changed to ”natural disasters.”
All language is metaphor. The word is not the thing. The map is not the territory. I am reading a book, livre, boek, Buch, biblio, libro, livro.
A rose by any name…
Words are labels. They “mean” what we say they mean. Changing acts of God to natural disasters will not alter the fact that insurance companies don’t want to pay for damages caused by tornadoes, hurricanes, or floods.
When a word or expression becomes a shibboleth, people suffer.
shibboleth 1382, the Heb. word shibboleth “flood, stream,” also “ear of corn,” in Judges xii:4-6. It was the password used by the Gileadites to distinguish their own men from fleeing Ephraimites, because Ephraimites could not pronounce the -sh- sound…A similar test-word was cicera “chick pease,” used by the Italians to identify the French (who could not pronounce it correctly) during the massacre called the Sicilian Vespers (1282). — (Online Etymology Dictionary)
The consequence of the “wrong” pronunciation for both Ephraimites and French was death.
TIP: Relieve the tedium of political coverage during the next ten months. Keep a notebook by your TV chair. Collect words and expressions. Record those that upset the candidates, and the words they all use, but which carry no specific meaning and can therefore mean anything they want them to. Remember Humpty Dumpty.