Thursday, September 8, 2011

Words Have Meaning: Let's Take Them Back

It's impossible to have a civil discourse (okay, I'll stipulate that civil discourse is a bit of a fantasy, but at least a vital if imaginary starting point for me) without words being allowed to keep their meanings intact.

Supercharging the meanings of words so that the very sound of them provokes anger, rage, and dismay has long been a tactic of demagogues, most decidedly on the right -- although some blog commenters on both the left and the right have a bad habit of inventing some pretty dismissive labels, such as libtards and rethuglicans, that aren't helpful.

But language matters, and I refuse to give up some words to those who want to hijack them, put them out of reach. I want these words back. I want to defend them, keep them safe. So, I'm going to get all teacher on you, but for good purpose.

Liberal: 1. broad-minded; especially: not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms.
2. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.

Progressive: 1. favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, especially in political matters: a progressive mayor. 
2. making progress  toward better conditions; employing or advocating more enlightened or liberal ideas, new or experimental methods, etc.: a progressive community.

Conservative: 1.disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
2. cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate.

Moderate: 1. of or pertaining to moderates, as in politics or religion. 
2. a person who is moderate in opinion or opposed to extreme views and actions, especially in politics or religion.
3. a member of a political party advocating moderate reform.

I'm a liberal, a progressive, or both. I'm not a conservative or a moderate. Now, I don't want to steal the words conservative or moderate, but I feel they've been stolen by those who adhere to the terms most, for those in today's conservative movement don't seem to resemble those in the above definition. And moderates haven't existed in the Republican Party for years, though I hear they're spotted in New England every so often but tend to go into hiding during crucial votes. I actually have a fondness for moderate Republicans of yore. I even remember the term liberal Republican, I'm not kidding. Oh, and a case can be made for the existence of moderate, even conservative Democrats.

But as we move forward and discuss policy, I'll try to keep the above terms straight -- and remind us occasionally what Webster had to say about them -- just to keep us, and me, honest.

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