GENE ROBERTSON: Internet, social media generate need for better word choice, linguistics

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:42 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Ain't they women?" was the exclamation of Sojourner Truth and later Congresswoman Gwen Moore, regarding exceptions made regarding privilege and violence to some women and not to others?

While words such as these are powerful, the proof is still in the pudding. Actions speak louder than words, but words matter. The use and meaning of words matter even more now than before. Prior to the technological advancements that have resulted in an explosion of word, the Internet, email and tweets, we could at least refer to our encyclopedias and dictionaries as compasses. But with this explosion of word vehicles, there has come an explosion of many meanings for the same words.

As a result, I have heard conservatives quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as though he were Strom Thurmond. Obviously definitions are needed in an instance such as that. Definitions to me are everything. I love many people in many ways, but definitions are necessary to really know exactly what I mean.

In an age of acute polarization of thoughts and actions, Wikipedia falls short of what our thoughts and actions mean. We must seek as much purity of an understanding of ideologies and behaviors that impact us as possible if we are to make judgments regarding them. It is simply necessary that we know and communicate what we mean.

Terms such as sequester, leader hero, courage, entitlement, race, economic progress, prison industrial complex, middle class, poverty, remedy and victory are bandied around as though their meanings are etched in stone. Fluid and amorphous interpretations are often offered when they are not definitions at all. Informed distinctions cannot be made without an understanding of a context.

In an age of multidimensional technological advancements and behaviors, it is even more necessary. When our communication is less face-to-face, with an absence of contact, better definitions are much more necessary. Much has previously been communicated through body language and eye contact. When this level of interaction is absent, our tweets need better definition. Issues, relationships and people are far more complex than simple one-dimensional definitions indicate.

We must research, analyze and critique all words and behaviors in order to enhance our understanding so that we are better able to participate effectively in the decisions that impact our lives. This cannot happen if we are not utilizing the same meaning of words. Consequently we must demand better definitions because they are everything!

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus at MU. Questions? Contact opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Richard Saunders March 12, 2013 | 11:21 a.m.

Nice article. Thing is though... with the professional sophist class (a.k.a. "leaders") constantly striving to undermine ideas by undermining the words used to express them, it is a never-ending battle.

A war of words, one might say.

Sadly the media plays right into this trap, as it attracts eyeballs, selling the sizzle, rather than the steak. What is really needed is the personal integrity to avoid these battles. A quick check through the Sunday morning "news" shows though, makes it quite obvious that this trait will not get you on the TeeVee.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 12, 2013 | 3:38 p.m.

RichardS: "...selling the sizzle..."

You mean kinda like "gravitas" and "charm offensive" and how the media carries the WH's verbal points?

I'm wondering if the WH has a special webpage where the media get their daily news (I wrote this with verbal tongue-in-cheek....maybe).

Makes my sides hurt every time I hear so MANY in the media using exactly the same "term." Do they think we do not notice?

Apparently so. At least...enough folks don't, and that's what matters.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 12, 2013 | 4:54 p.m.


Where does one acquire these special terms? Are they a part of the curricula at the Eva Braun Shcool of Beauty & Political Influence? :)

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 12, 2013 | 7:06 p.m.

Ellis: I dunno.

Bathroom walls?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 12, 2013 | 7:09 p.m.

Ellis: Ah....I know.

Burma Shave signs.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle March 12, 2013 | 8:33 p.m.

Things get weird when even the vegetarian prefers the steak.


(Report Comment)

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