Lament of the Rhetorician

Many of you may not know what rhetorician means. Many of you may not know what “trolling” means or what mansplaining means or what “literally” means. Mansplaining has drifted in meaning into something like this. But it’s original meaning was perfect and useful. This article laments the loss of this word, like a rare beautiful bird that flew too briefly in our language ecosystem.

Many people literally don’t know what literally means. They literally misuse it every time they use the word.

See what I did there? What I did was be a rhetorician which according to the link to dictionary.com, means “A person given to verbal extravagance” which has a negative connotation. Do we have a word for someone who uses language and rhetoric precisely and expertly. We do, and that word is “rhetorician”. However, that word is also used to mean “a person given to verbal extravagance.” These are important distinctions in meaning and connotation in a single word. The true rhetorician would lament the conflation of these two meanings into a single word for she could not deliver her precise meaning whether to insult or not to insult without using other words that may not exist.

In our language in which the meaning of words is determined by the tyranny of the masses, we cannot be proud to be precise and accurate in our words and be called a rhetorician. We will also suffer the negative connotations of being a rhetorician. And thus, that is the lament of the rhetorician. Her very attention to detail and precision of language is mocked by those who cause the drift in meaning in the very word “rhetorician” itself.

I would like to be proud to be called a rhetorician or a liberal or socialist. But as a rhetorician, I must recognize that most people are not as precise in their usage of words as I am. And thus, they use the popular determined meanings of those words in whatever social circle they happen to be in. And in many circles, those words are insults and labels which are synonymous with other tribe. That’s all you need to know about the definition of the word. It means other tribe. It doesn’t mean liberal or socialist or even rhetorician. It simply means not us. The original meanings of those words are lost and replaced with the meaning of other tribe.

If that is what they mean, I propose that they simply use the words other tribe when they mean to denigrate by using a single word. Why dance around the meaning, when the true meaning in the context of the sentence and diatribe is “other tribe.” There is absolutely nothing in the person’s context which requires the actual meaning of liberal to be used. Thus, let’s just substitute all of that kind of speech with “other tribe” to clarify the meaning. And because I don’t want to unfairly target one group, let us just say that the words Republican and Democrat can also be replaced by the word “other tribe” with absolutely no loss in meaning.

So, this is the lament of the rhetorician. That because of the ease of written communication and the paucity of characters in formats such as Twitter, people use shortcuts and meaning drift of words to deliver their tribal inclusion or exclusion messages. And because of their incorrect usage, these connotations are stuck in people’s minds. People, especially politicians and polemicists, do this because it works. It is a language that signals that this is your tribe talking to you about the other tribe. These are keywords to signal for the choir to listen up because the pastor’s preaching has begun.

I lament this trend, not just because of its blatant appeal to tribal loyalties inherent in the language strategy, but because it legitimately dilutes and crowds out and eliminates the original meaning of the words and reduces the signal in actual discourse.

It becomes difficult to have a meaningful dialogue using the words liberal and Democrat and Republican when each word is rife with tribal connotation. Even saying Bernie and Hillary this election cycle is tinged with danger because of the connotations carried with each name.

And so, the thing that is important to the rhetorician, communicating meaning and discourse accurately and precisely is made difficult by the dilution of words.

And what makes it worse is that the dilution of these words due to their tribal connotations contributes further to the lack of communication between the tribes and accentuates differences rather than similarities between tribes. And furthermore, communication is made more difficult because there are no words to replace the meanings that were lost. Thus, the entire ecosystem of communication is forever damaged.

This is the lament of the rhetorician.

 

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