20 September 2009

Taking Liberties with Words

While I had hoped to write about something a little more cerebral today regarding liberty, I have to note that simple, small words are being demolished. Taking liberties with what simple words mean is a way to blur our world. Example: President Obama ignores the denotative – dictionary – meaning of the word tax. When George Stephanopoulos refers to the denotative meaning of the word tax (video) in one of the five Obama spots this morning, things got a little interesting.

For the record, the definition reported to Mr. Obama was, “a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes.” Seems pretty straight forward to me.

But Mr. Obama rolled his head to the side and laughed, as if to imply that this was all one silly mistake, a charade, a distraction. He even accused Stephanopoulos of “stretching” by resorting to the dictionary to find the definition of a word. He then deftly denied that taking money to fund health care insurance reform (or some other euphemistic label) would be, in fact, a tax. This word needs to mean exactly what he needed it to for the moment in which he needed it. At that moment, tax could not mean what Webster says it means, so it did not. A long time ago, Mr. Obama could have revised what the meaning of “is” was at a given point in time.

But this simple act of morphing the meanings of words is a dangerous thing. If tax does not mean tax, then it can mean anything at any time. Perhaps today it’s a fee, tomorrow, a penalty. Later, a re-acquisition of government property. I realize that’s going a bit far, but when a word means whatever it needs to mean in the moment, one can go just as far as his power, audacity, and creativity will allow him.

No comments: