Language takes on new meaning with time

As we traditionalists watch in despair, language often loses meaning, and sometimes meanings change.

This apparently is how language evolves.

The sound-bite world of television news sometimes leaves a sense of loss as the power of some phrases becomes watered down and some words and phrases acquire unintended meanings.

“Reaching out” used to mean making a special effort to engage someone else on an emotional level. Now, when the anchors say “we reached out” to a news source, it just means they dialed the number.

To label a routine phone call as “reaching out” overstates the task to those of us who equate reaching out to the effort a hostage negotiator puts into persuading a captor to release prisoners.

Another word you hear a lot in the sound-bite world is “justice,” as in “We want justice” after a police shooting incident.

What is being sought is not justice. It is vengeance, especially when those calling for “justice” think they know who the guilty party is and assume maximum guilt.

Justice involves a full hearing from both sides. Usually those who call for “justice” won’t accept anything less than maximum punishment no matter how fair and open the trial may be.   They want “justice” only by a code of revenge.

The meaning of “hold accountable” has also been distorted into something similar to the current meaning of “justice.”

To be held accountable used to mean your work would be monitored. Accountability meant rewards for good work and consequences for bad.

In politics these days, however,  to be “held accountable” means to be caught and punished, and it applies only to public officials. Criminals are caught and punished, but wayward officials are “held accountable.”

“We will investigate,” the district attorney says, “and guilty officials will be held accountable.”

Whether they really are is a matter for another discussion.

We, as voters and taxpayers, should daily hold elected officials accountable in the older sense.

After all, the quality of government holds the voters accountable daily, too.

If we’re not getting what we pay for from government, it’s because we get what we vote for.

Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at: 

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