Bet you didn’t know that language can kill.

This is a true story: Three thinking  giants, an old teacher, his adult student, and his young student, got together twenty-four hundred years ago in Athens. The old teacher, Mr. S said, “Future communication between people on this planet depends on what we decide tonight.” His adult student, Mr. P asked, “Are we going to publish a dictionary, Master?” His young student, Mr. A said, “I don’t think so. P only wants us to establish the sources for future philologists where they can get information about the meaning of words.” S and P looked at the young student, “That was very good, Aris,” bursting out with appreciation of the young mind.

The young man’s confidence soared, not that he had come to the meeting with lack of it. Aris was an independent thinker at a period in Athen’s life when philologists were were not.

“My dear teachers, the meaning of words would always be based on how they are used by the people,” he said.

“It appears to me that you are proposing a new concept,” Plat said in visible discomfort.

“Yes, my teacher, I call it Community Standard of Language.

“What about the essence of words, my son?” Soc questioned.

“Words have no essence, Master, only local meaning.”

Socra and Plat gave Aris a disdainful look, “If what you are proposing is true, future dictionaries will be a source of discord and not a source of consensus in the world.”

“I’m sorry, gentlemen, words have no true meaning. Take, for example the word ‘love.’ Do you really believe that men and women could ever mean the same thing when they communicate love to each other?”

Socrates and Plato started crying. Socrates took a deep breath and said, “Then language will kill. Think of all the wars that misunderstanding will cause.”

“I’m sorry, gentlemen, but culture decides the meaning of words, not philologists.”

Socrates said, “You have a point, my son, I was condemned to death last week for teaching our youth that language has an inherent meaning, different from what is taught in Athens.”

The  above story has a profound meaning in my life. I presented a research paper on the above topic at the 69th Annual Meeting of the California Educational Research association, 1990. There was silence in the room. 25 PhDs shuffled their feet out of the room in silence, not a word, not a question, just looks, you know, the kind of looks people give you when they think you are a weird killjoy.

Readers, I want you to retrieve my reasearch paper, It is called “Critical Thinking Skills” by Dr. Elior Kinarthy. You will know why so many people in your life disagree with what you say!


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