Saturday, May 20, 2006

Just What Did You Mean?

Over at National Review Online, there's an article up by a seasoned old word-advocate who would definitely endorse the VRP if he was aware that it existed. The piece, which deals with the immense connotations that "a single word" can take on in the right setting (in this case, legal), is a great read. Here's an excerpt to get you started:
Some years ago I was a defendant in a lawsuit brought by a creepy fascistic outfit (they are now out of business), and the question before the jury was whether I and the magazine I edited were racist. The attorney had one weapon to use in making his point, namely that we had published an editorial about Adam Clayton Powell Jr. when he made a terminally wrong move in his defense against federal prosecutors. The editorial we published was titled, "The Jig Is Up for Adam Clayton Powell Jr.?" On the witness stand I argued that the word "jig" could be used other than as animadversion. The feverish lawyer grabbed a book from his table and slammed it down on the arm of my chair. "Have you ever heard of a dictionary?" he asked scornfully, as if he had put the smoking gun in my lap. I examined the American Heritage College Dictionary and said yes, I was familiar with it. "In fact," I was able to say, opening the book, "I wrote the introduction to this edition." That was the high moment of my forensic life. And, of course, the dictionary establishes that the word “jig” can be used harmlessly.

Any guesses as to who this vocab-master is? (Hint: he is not equally loved by all political parties...) Nevertheless, you'll want to read the whole (brief) article: Just What Did You Mean?


Blogger martin said...

The post you quote is interesting, but I think the court case is poorly argued. It was foolish for anyone to deny that 'jig' could have a non-derogatory meaning. But equally, you have to wonder whether choosing to use a tired cliche "the jig is up" which has long since lost any link to its metaphorical origin in a context where other associations of 'jig' might be pertinent was wise, even if entirely innocent. The same applies to the current case and the N word: maybe it has become generally used in conversation by the young, but the speaker can hardly complain that its use is read as racist in the context of saying it to someone while hitting them with a baseball bat. Appeals to ironical usage in the circumstances are hardly convincing.

2:47 AM  
Blogger heartsjoy said...

I don't have much time to read so I hope to come back and read your post later. I just wanted to thank you for stopping by and your encouraging words and prayers! We so appreciate it! :)

2:31 PM  
Blogger Nomos said...

I haven't looked at the article yet, but was that W.F.B Jr.?

Perhaps I'm a bit behind the times...

7:52 PM  

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