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From: wayne@waynewerner.com
To: everyone.everywhere.all.at.once
Date: Fri, 28 Jul 2023 13:14:37 +0000
Subject: Words Have Meaning, Too

Words Have Meaning, Too

Words are interesting - they're arguably nothing more than glyphs on a page, but they're symbols that we use to induce hallucinations in other people.

For instance, if I were to arrange the following symbols:

A purple elephant, holding a parasol, dancing on a tightrope.

You probably have created an image of that in your mind. There's no real purple elephant, or even a drawing of one. And yet, you can picture this one in your mind. That's the power of words.

The interesting thing about these glyphs though, is that they only make sense to someone who can read English. If I were to give these to a child in Russia or China it's unlikely that they would understand them. And conversely, if I were to write the equivalent glyphs from in Kanji or Cyrillic, most native English speakers would not understand them.

Of course, most of the words that I've used so far don't describe anything concrete, other than where elephants are concerned. Words can describe abstract ideas, like justice, peace, liberty, The American Way.

Which is certainly a double-edged sword, because it means that I can both communicate and mis-communicate - or you can understand or mis-understand my meanings (either intentionally or un-intentionally). And our understanding of words are primarily created by the experiences that we've had throughout our lives.

I've said and heard it said in other venues that English is a fantastic language for technical concepts, but rubbish for describing emotions. For instance, if I were to say, "A blue chair, 50cm in height, with a seat 20cm from the ground, four legs, four spindles on the back, no arms, and stretchers between the legs" you could very likely draw a picture of this that would be nearly identical to the chair I'm picturing in my mind. You might have to look up some terms if you're not familiar with them, but likely it's not much different than "aglet", which is the little plastic part at the end of your shoelaces. You'll be familiar with the thing, if not the word used to describe it.

What about "love"? This is a word that is overloaded in English -- that's a programming term to mean that you can use a function in several different ways. Love is a word that you can use in several different ways. Consider the following phrases:

Each of these phrases uses the exact same word, "Love". But in entirely different contexts. That you may, or may not agree with, or have experience with, or even understand at all. Heck, I don't even agree with all of those phrases.

Because our experiences form our understanding. Michael Jordan and Steph Curry probably love basketball -- after all, it's put them in the top 1% (but they'd still have to save 100% for 100 years to make it to Jeff Bezos' wealth today, whoops) -- but I don't. You may or may not. And if you do, maybe you love it more or less than Mike. Again, our interpretation of these words are based on our experiences.

I loved S.W.A.T. (the 1975 version) as a youth. The 2017 remake is also pretty fun and pays some good homage to the original. Of course the new one is way more copaganda than the original.

Which is a word that you may or may not have heard, and is the magic of English. We use a lot of portmanteaus -- when you take two words and mash them together to make another. For instance, blog is a sort-of portmanteau. It's a shortening of weblog from web log. Copaganda is a portmanteau of "cop" and "propaganda" -- which you probably understood even if you never heard the word before.

And your feelings about the word may be influenced by your own personal experiences with police forces, or experiences of those you care about, or have read about. It was actually an episode in the remake of S.W.A.T. where they were trying to protect a Pride event where the character playing Hondo told a definitely-not-Alex-Jones character that was clearly trying to incite violence. Hondo told him, "Words have meaning."

And copaganda or not, the phrase is true. Words have meaning. And we should use ours responsibly, and in defense of those whose rights are being removed or under attack.


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