Relating to the Flux of our Language

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The English language is constantly changing. New words are being added; many are for new inventions or processes. Modem, email, ecotourism, and zipper have entered our language in the recent past as words are formulated to keep pace with the changing world. Some words, such as the word flux, which means continuous movement or continual change, fall from common usage. Other words undergo change in their meanings. The King James Version of the Holy Scriptures uses many words that are examples of this flux. The word meat as used in the New Testament means any food, whereas its meaning today has narrowed to just the edible flesh of animals. The word corn as used in Scripture refers to any small grain but today its meaning has also been narrowed referring exclusively to the grain technically known as maize. The word lady has undergone the opposite type of change in that its meaning has become broader. In Scripture, lady means a woman of high social rank while its usage today in United States refers to any woman. Such changes usually come gradually. God's people do well to be aware of the changes affecting our language.

Vocabulary changes that are the result of new products or processes are not wrong; we cannot stop change. On the other hand, the world's rush to purchase the latest gadget and to jump on the newest bandwagon indicates a soul at unrest with the Lord. Some of us enjoy staying abreast with the latest technology, but we should avoid using the new terms as a way of elevating ourselves in the eyes of others. This is nothing other than pride and the desire to appear better than others.

Of greater importance are the changes in the terms that are used to identify certain things. Again, these changes happen in any language in everyday use; however, we need to be aware of the forces driving these changes lest we unwittingly aid the works of darkness. One of the forces driving vocabulary changes in our culture is what is referred to as "political correctness." Political correctness is being exceedingly careful with word choice so as not to offend anyone. On the surface, this is good; Christians should be considerate of the feelings of others. For this reason, we use the euphemism passed away rather than the word died, or the phrase over weight rather than the word fat. Hearing impaired versus deaf, physically challenged versus handicapped, mentally challenged versus retarded, and African-American versus Negro or black are some other recent shifts in our vocabulary that have come about because of people taking offense to what they felt were "labels." We do well to be aware of these shifts within our culture lest we be offensive as we interact with society in general.

There are some vocabulary changes that as Christians we should not stoop to. These changes arise from the desire to make sin appear less sinful or even okay by giving it a better name. The use of the term alternate lifestyle used in place of gay or lesbian (euphemisms for homosexual and sodomite); live in partner instead of immorality or fornication, and substance abuse rather than addiction are examples of this type of flux. May we never become too ashamed or intimidated to call sin, sin.

Another complexity involving language is what to do when a word gradually takes on a new, vulgar meaning. At what point should we stop using a word because its common meaning is no longer the original meaning but the new, vulgar meaning? Examples of words of this nature would be ass, bitch, and queer. At the least, we need to be careful to only use words such as these where it is crystal clear that we are using the words as originally defined. One word used in the King James Version that has not changed meaning but has come to be considered vulgar in all uses is the word piss(eth). In a proper time and place, we need to teach our children about the changes in language and how that even some words used in the Bible are no longer acceptable vocabulary.

Some terms have broadened in meaning due to social changes. In the past the terms spouse, companion, and partner were general synonyms. Today social influence has broadened the meaning of companion and partner to include anyone in a committed relationship whether married or not or even those of like gender. Some years ago, a brother shared with me a personal blunder involving these terms. While visiting an elderly couple, he referred to the wife as being the man's "companion." The husband rather indignantly replied, "She is my wife." A personal example of similar nature involved the word dating. A young man with a question approached me at a home-school convention. His question was this, "You don't believe in dating, do you?" Having been married only a few years previous, my first impulse was to respond, "How do you think I got my wife?" However, after a split-second reflection, I answered, "No we don't." I understood he was asking whether our youth date (casual social interchange with a person of the opposite sex for the purpose of entertainment) or whether they court (serious social interchange with a person of the opposite sex for the purpose of finding a marriage partner). We understand what we mean when we use the words date or dating but we also run the risk of leaving a wrong impression on those in society who hear us using these words to describe our courtship practices. Another term being broadened in definition is the word kids. The broadening of this term finds roots in the ungodly view of children promoted by a selfish society rejecting Biblical child training methods . May we never stoop to such derogatory language.

Another powerful influence of change to our language is the world of entertainment. Words and phrases can quickly become popularized by the media. Many of these words and phrases become street slang and often have either a suggestive meaning or are closely tied with a television show or entertainer. Being largely shielded from the influence of the mass media, we hear these fad terms without being aware of all their associations. While this area of language may pose a more youthful challenge, sometimes these expressions even find their way into our preaching or writing. Suggestive or vulgar expressions such as "It turns me off (on)," should not be part of our vocabulary. Other slang expressions like cool, knock it off, cop, or hammer (to speed on the highway) exhibit sub-standard grammar or identify us with a rebellious element of society. Language fads (slang) are no less a part of the god of this world than are the fads and fashions in dress and hair arrangements, and we need to keep ourselves untarnished by them all.

Any language spoken by enough people for a long enough period of time will change. May we as the people of God always be known for speech that is pure, considerate, honest, and dignified that our speech may be an honest reflection of the very nature of our God. "But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." (Matt 12:36-37).