Word Games and Babbling Fools

Sep 20, 2019 by David Fowler

dictionary showing an entry for the word
Noah Webster, author of perhaps America’s most well-known dictionary, is probably rolling in his grave. On Tuesday, the dictionary that bears his name released its latest update containing 533 new words and meanings. One of the changes would be comical if it didn’t reflect something so serious.

The Comical Part Is Found in the News Story Itself

The headline in USA Today announcing these new words and meanings read as follows:

Nonbinary pronouns ‘they,’ ‘themself’ now singularly defined

The humor, at least to my way of thinking, was found in the first sentence of the news story. It reads as follows:

The next time someone expresses a preference for a plural pronoun, the dictionary will be there to provide support.

It’s the word someone.

Webster defines the word someone as “some person.” A person is a singular noun, which, according to Webster’s, means either “human or individual.”

But the word someone surely has to be offensive to someone.

In keeping with the new irrelevancy of singular and plural pronouns, surely one of the thems or theys who want to redefine well-known and commonly understood words will find the word someone to smack of speciesism, the superiority of humans over other species, and individualism, a failure to appreciate the collective/groups.

For the next edition, I was thinking of suggesting to the dictionary publisher that the word someone be defined as “one or more beings.” The singular or individual word one compounded with some should be able to mean singular and plural, too.

But then I got to thinking about how the U.S. Supreme Court categorizes natural beings among the human species (not saying being human is better than being a pig) as persons only once they are viable outside the womb.

So, I thought I needed to refine my definition further. I think I’ve now got it:

Someone: One or more beings, but, with respect to the anthropomorphic species, that which can survive outside a womb given sufficient medical support but without regard to whether that being can remain independent of one or more other anthropomorphic beings in an absolute sense throughout that being’s life.

I think that would do nicely and allow journalists to use someone in a way that corresponds nicely to the new blended and contradictory singular and plural meaning of they.

The Serious Part of the Word Games We’re Playing

George Orwell once wrote in his essay Politics and the English Language, “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” In other words, when we buy into these changes in the meaning of words, we are buying into the thoughts and worldviews that lie behind the words. Perhaps that explains why G.K. Chesterton once suggested that words are the only things worth fighting for.

As I hope my poke at the new singular they has demonstrated, we are moving rapidly toward a point in time in which words will have no meaning but such as the individual who uses them gives them. When that happens, communication will become impossible—we will have no idea what the other individual is really trying to communicate.

The Serious Part of the Word Games God May Be Playing

As I read the news story, the word confusion came to mind and perhaps it did for you, too, as you read my last paragraph.

And when I think of people whose communication is confusing, I think of a word like babbler, those who, according to Webster’s, make “utter meaningless or unintelligible sounds.” I think of babbling, the “art” of the babbler.

But for those who know language, they know that this idea of babblers and babbling comes from the name of a city in Shinar where the building of a tower was halted by God (Genesis 11:1–9).

The builders wanted a tower that would reach into “the heavens” and wanted to do so to “make a name” for themselves and thus bring unity, “that they not be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

Babel is the name given to the place where human beings thought they could ascend to the place of God and bring about their own form of unity.

The key part of the story—from God’s perspective, which is the one we need to have—is as follows:

Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they many not understand one another’s speech. So, the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:7–9, NKJV)

Babel should, therefore, bring to our minds that babbling was God’s judgment upon arrogant, proud, look-what-we-can-do humanity, and it was the means by which God broke the unity among those who were arrogant before His face.

For any—Christian and non-Christian alike—who has ears to hear the Word that was spoken to us for our good and our reproof, let him or her (not they) hear and be wise.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006.

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