Very frequently, people of poor education misuse words in characteristic ways. Less often, educated people attempt to foist upon words meanings which are foreign to them.
An example very widespread in the UK is 'ignorant'. Educated people use it to signify 'lacking in knowledge', which may be general or specific, and may or may not be pejorative. For instance, I am absolutely ignorant of medieval Korean literature. I couldn't name a single writer, or quote a single line of verse or prose. But since I have never posed as an expert in that field, and since I have no social or civic duty to have any knowledge of it, my ignorance is not to my discredit. On the other hand, if someone were to describe a practising solicitor as 'ignorant of the scope and impact of the Statute of Limitations', that would be a very serious accusation, as such a solicitor would be unfit for purpose.
Among uneducated people, 'ignorant' is invariably used as a pejorative, and means 'displaying a lack of proper respect for for me [the speaker]'.
Among educated people, there is a tendency to try to make words mean things which they don't mean, but the speaker would like them to mean. For instance, a very nasty piece of work, now deceased (I believe), was the Rev Kenneth Greet. He had a big, BIG hang-up about sex, which took the form of feeling personally affronted at the thought that anyone AT ALL who wasn't married to the the other person was actually doing it. The world being what is is, even in the 60s (the only time I met him), his affront was a permanent condition.
He was also dead against two common expressions for the act: 'having sex', and 'sexual intercourse'. For both, he wished to substitute a term of his own, which he had either invented or dug up from some cemetery of failed words. It was 'coition'. I have never heard anyone, except himself on that one occasion, use it. And rather than do so, I would use in public, regardless of offence, the present participle/gerund of an Anglo-Saxon verb beginning with f.
Away with him! Rather more interesting is the semantics of the word 'Quaker'. The official name of this dreary Protestant sect is 'Religious Society of Friends', and the name is a naked act of attempted theft. Essentially, they were attempting to hi-jack the word friend, which is one of the most emotionally charged in the English language, for their own use. Didn't work, of course. They were insultingly called Quakers by everyone else, for rather complex reasons that you can Google, and the name stuck.
However, dreary though they were, thery were scrupulously honest in their financial dealings, and they prospered. The Cadbury and Fry families (confectioners) were Quakers, as were the Lloyds (bankers). This was noted, and the term became gradually less pejorative, until they adopted it themselves.
I think it's reather a neat flip-flop, that their original dishonesty in trying to steal one word was neutralised by their general honesty, so as to purge an insult of its potency.
Incidentally, two famous Quakers, of whom many of you will have heard, were Elizabeth Fry (prison reformer) and Richard Nixon (US president|). What a pity she died so long before he was born! What a conversation they might have had - with the tapes going!
|3 years ago. Rating: 4|