Not All Words Mean Things

Some words lose any real meaning from over-use and misuse. Lake Superior State University recently released their 41st annual List of Banished Words. As always, it is an interesting read and commentary on the state of the English language.

I find the annual list to be a good check of my own vocabulary. I did pretty well this year, not being a gross offender with any of the listed words. It is a good reminder that incessantly using the latest slang does not help us “connect” (banished in 1992) with others. At best it serves as a signal that we swim in the same pond, polluted by the same media stream.

I have also found that most use of “four-letter-words” is just as inane.  Why some people think it is a good idea to use a particular word as an adjective before every noun they utter is beyond me. Seems like they could just wear a tag that states that they can be described this way, along with everything they see, hear, taste, do, and say. Would save them a lot of energy, and serve as a good warning label.

I find words suffer from over-use even in narrower circles than the broad American culture. Consider the church. I would suggest we fast from the following words for at least a year:

  • Worship. This word typically means music, often music performed for us that in earlier days we would have been able to sing along with because we knew it and it was singable. You know, like a hymn.
  • Fellowship. Usually a Christian code-word for eating something with someone else. Are we embarrassed that we eat together so much? Or is it that we eat so much when we are together? Interestingly, we never seem to fellowship while fasting.
  • Ministry. I think this means someone, somewhere, is doing something. And it’s at least tangentially religious. Hard to nail it down much more than that.
  • Biblical. This one is played as a trump card. “The biblical position is….” In other words, if you disagree, you’re obviously unbiblical. The first person to play it in a discussion/debate/argument/fight presumes they are the winner.

What should we use in place of these over-worn and abused words? Anything else. If we mean a rock concert, we should say, “rock concert.” Not, “Cutting-edge worship.” If we want to get together and eat, can’t we just say that?

If you want to do something or are doing something, it doesn’t magically sanctify it to call it a “ministry”. You’ve seen it. We can’t just say we are going to offer to do yard work and small jobs for people in our church who can’t do it for themselves. No, it is our “helps ministry.”

If we want to support a view from the Bible, we should say, “It seems to me the Bible might support….” Not definite enough? Good. Unless we are quoting established orthodoxy, a bit of humility is in order. If we don’t agree on what is orthodoxy with whomever we are tempted to hit with this word, then we should be humble. Maybe even a little meek. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar and all that.





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