These days, we’re all becoming Humpty Dumpty:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean— neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – – that’s all.”
–Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)
In The Rotarian this month, I have a column about the growing distance between words and their meanings, something that often fills me with despair. It’s not a new phenomenon: Orwell wrote about it in his 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language.” But it is, I fear, a problem that has ballooned with the Internet and the surplus of words in our lives. Today we live in a world where “shredding papers” is “document management,” where “failure” is “deferred success,” and where “surveillance” is “data collection.” Maybe that’s just the invisible hand at work, but for what it’s worth, read on here.