As a little girl, my daughter was part of a generation that grew up with video recordings. She had a handful of movies that she watched over and over. One of them was “The Princess Bride,” which came out in 1987.
One of the characters overuses the word “inconceivable” to comic effect. In one scene, the character Inigo Montoya deadpans, “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
I’ve had some Inigo Montoya moments recently. People use words that don’t mean what they intend. This is especially true when it comes to online memes.
I don’t care for memes unless they are funny or cute. When they try to make a serious point, they invariably oversimplify, which irks me even if I basically agree with the point.
One example has to do with the word “entitlement.” Lots of people post sentiments saying, “I worked for my Social Security. It’s not an entitlement.”
Well, you did work for it. But a government entitlement is defined as something that, if you meet the qualifications, the government has to give you. You have a right to it.
Thus Social Security, Veterans Administration benefits, pensions, and other programs for which people qualify are entitlements. I’ve been following discussion of these programs since “The Princess Bride” was in theaters.
The problem is that another sense of “entitlement” has arisen. This sense refers to some people’s sense that they should be given deference and consideration without having earned them in any way. Entitled people make extra demands on others and want a free ride.
Entitled teenage boys are bad about walking away from their lunch trash in the cafeteria. I guess they figure somebody else should be working for them.
Saying that the projected growth of entitlement programs will lead to budget problems is not the same thing as saying that veterans, pensioners and the disabled are looking for a free ride. Many entitlements, are, indeed, earned.
Another Inigo Montoya moment comes with “begs the question.” Many people use it for something that demands an answer.
In logic, to beg a question is to assume the answer as you ask a question. “Why are you [liberals, conservatives, Christians, atheists, etc.] such angry and messed-up people?” is an example of begging the question.
Of course, it’s also true that words escape the confines of a particular discipline. I had a philosophy professor once who launched into an interminable, passionate denunciation of students’ using “entailed” in any but the most technical sense.
I wanted to ask if he had read Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” where “entailed” is an important aspect of the plot. It had nothing to do with logic, everything to do with law.
(Sometimes I think there are two kinds of philosophy professors: one kind is obsessively neurotic about policing language — and then there’s the other kind, obsessed with making up new jargon.)
Words become shibboleths, words or phrases that indicate membership in a particular in-group. They mean different things depending on one’s group identification.
A current example of this is the word “privilege.” Originally it means “private law” in French. Before the French Revolution, the monarchy was reduced to selling public offices to raise money. Often the purchasers of these royal offices had immunities and exemptions from such things as taxation and arrest.
Nowadays in left-wing discourse the word extends to any advantage someone has not earned, like having parents who were married, kept jobs, and stayed out of jail.
People make money lecturing about privilege. I think of Inigo Montoya.