Words and Meanings

On Feb. 20, 2023 Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted “We need a national divorce. We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government. Everyone I talk to says this. From the sick and disgusting woke culture issues shoved down our throats to the Democrat’s traitorous America Last policies, we are done.”

She received over 10,600 retweets, 14,100 quote tweets (that’s re-quoting the tweet), and over 78,300 likes of the tweet. I was unable to figure how many responses there were to this quote – but with just a quick glance many of the people commenting were trying to figure out the logistics of how it would work.

The point of this post is not to focus on the representative or her idea. It’s to focus on something much deeper – words and meanings and the effect that they have on people.

I want to ask you a question – go back through Rep. Greene’s tweet and examine the words. Of the words that she uses, how many of those words would you say could be pulled out because there is a difference of opinion about what the word means? Or stated differently – could you argue that Rep. Greene, along with others, are inherently implying one definition for a word used that might be different than what someone else, who carries a different belief system, could use for the same word?

Here’s what I mean in plain language – when I look at her tweet, I’m curious. I have questions. Who is we? What is meant by national? What is meant by national divorce? I’m not talking about logistics. I’m talking about definitions. How are these terms defined and used. What is meant by shrink? Does she mean less money? Does she mean fewer employees? Does she mean fewer branches? Does she mean fewer agencies? Does she mean fewer laws? Fewer regulations?

When she says “Everyone I talk to says this” define who you are talking about. Who is everyone?

Define woke. Define culture issues. Define being done.

Of course I’m picking just one tweet here – one that has garnered mass attention from across the political spectrum. It really doesn’t matter what I think about Rep. Greene or her idea. What her tweet highlights is that we have a problem of communication in our country.

There are plenty of other words that we could highlight and spotlight where this same issue is ongoing.

Words like: freedom, elections, Election Day, election results, government, culture, woke (as we mentioned before), education, economics, economic system, government, capitalism, socialism, economy, labor, work, rights, responsibilities, abortion, law, order, police, marriage, society, justice, the American way, the American dream, social justice, environment, civil, civility, duty, honor, taxes, race, sex, sexuality, gender, and more.

All these words have meanings. But the challenge is having the same definition and use. Societies that are healthy use the same definition for words across the spectrum. It doesn’t mean that everyone agrees about everything, but the hallmark of healthy cultures and societies is communication that is clear and trustworthy. It’s communication that people can know because what is said is not shrouded in code and it’s understood for what it is. In other words, I understand what you are talking about – regardless of what I think about it.

How clear is out communication when we have people using various words but their use and definition is unclear at best. We have to dig to find what is being meant. One person’s use of freedom means free to do something, while another means free from being inconvenienced from uncomfortable beliefs. There may be aspects of freedom in both, but they aren’t talking about the same thing, even while using the same word. Throw this into the mix of a hotbed of emotional issues and content and you have recipe for people who become impatient with one another, jumping to conclusions about the other person’s moral bearings and standings, and eventually people start to view “the other” as an existential threat to the survival of the nation, or the religion, or human survival, etc.

We do this in our politics, our religious faith, and anything that cuts down to our levels of identity and meaning – the words that help up define who we are individually and communally, whether we are talking about as a family unit, a community, an institution, some kind of group (like a political party or team), and a nation.

Words have meaning. But how often do we take the time to really think about what it is we are saying or writing for that matter. We often just assume that we are using the “correct” definition of a word and those that we disagree with are wrong. They must be, right?

What do we mean when we say what we say? Who are we talking about? What are we conveying? What identity are we expressing? What are we revealing about ourselves when we use words that can be defined multiple ways?

So many questions. So little answers.


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