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What The Right Gets Wrong About Semantic Drift (And Linguistics In General)

5 min read from linguistics on 2019-12-21

Hello everyone, I am feeling a bit down today so I thought it would be a good idea to laugh at low hanging fruit so we can all cheer up somewhat by thinking to ourselves: “At least I’m not that stupid”.

Here are some comments I found on a post from subreddit “r/Ask_TheDonald” called “Looking for the worst abuses of language destruction”:

The worst things progressivism does to language is says there are no real rules, or definitions, and that the usage of the word can change it over time. The word literally for example comes from liter, meaning by the word. Most people know that, and use it to mean the opposite of its definition as a joke, ie I literally died laughing, so now dictionaries say literally can mean its Latin root or “a hyperbolic exaggeration” The word “irony” is the same, so many idiots think it means a funny coincidence that leftist librarians accepted that as a true definition.

Hmm.

Gender - It has more than one definition, but it has for centuries meant “one of the two sexes”. My collection of dictionaries show this definition until about 30 years ago, when leftists and feminist succeeded in changing it to “how one identifies” (paraphrased). They are also actively working on changing related words like boy/girl/man/woman and they are on track to succeed.

But wait, there's more.

Google literally modified the definition of fascism to mean right wing people.

The thread was posted by u/TheCryptoClub who stated that they were “writing a blog about how liberal progressive incrementalism has shifted the meaning of words to mean vastly different things in the name of political gain” and was asking for examples from the fine gentlemen at r/Ask_TheDonald.

So I’m writing this blog post to explain how that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read.

But first up, I’m going to directly address “What The Right Gets Wrong About Semantic Drift” so I can say that the title isn’t clickbait and go to sleep soundly at night. Sounds good? Okay, so what does the right get wrong about semantic drift?

Everything. They literally don’t understand it (or refuse to understand it).

If you don’t know, semantic drift, or “semantic change” as Wikipedia calls it is “a form of language change regarding the evolution of word usage—usually to the point that the modern meaning is radically different from the original usage”[1].

The meanings of words changing is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. It’s just a thing that happens with natural languages. When enough people decide to use a word with a different meaning, guess what? The word means that now! Complaining about it isn’t going to do anything you crybaby.

None of the words in any natural language have any meaning until we give it to them and we all agree with it. You might disagree with it, but if everyone else agrees then too bad.

Language is a living tree, eternally sprouting new shoots as other branches wither. To say that this is one the “worst things progressivism does to (a) language” shows your ignorance on one of the core functions of a natural language. This isn’t something “progressivism” created you buffoon, it’s been a part of it since we developed it. We even have an entire field of study for it[2] you muppets, so don’t you dare say it’s unscientific.

Also what the fuck even is “language destruction”? Seriously, that’s not a thing! Do you really think you can destroy a language by just changing the meanings of some words? Please take a linguistics course before you spout such garbage on the Internet you idiots. How can you go through your entire life speaking a language and not know anything about how it works?

Don’t even get me started on “gender”, which comes from Old French and has meant “kind, sort, class, a class or kind of persons or things sharing certain traits”[3] since the 13th century and was only used as a replacement for “sex” in the 15th century. Seriously, your “collection of dictionaries” that show that it used to be “one of the two sexes” belong in a dumpster and set aflame recycled in an environmentally friendly way.

“Google literally modified the definition of fascism to mean right wing people.” Holy shit how can someone be this stupid? Do I even need to say anything?

Goddamn, I need a break.


Okay, rant over. I’m back with a nice cup of coffee and I’m ready to dive back in. Not into the other comments though, I don’t want to lose anymore braincells than I already have, but into the main topic of this post.

Something we should also look at is why they are so ignorant on this. It’s clear that they understand that words in languages change, but they act like it’s a terrible thing done by the “left”, even though as well all know that it’s not and it’s a normal thing that’s supposed to happen. Thankfully, this has a pretty simple answer.

They’re fascists.

That’s not a joke or anything about the Google guy above. I genuinely believe they are and I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to call them that, considering they’re posting on r/Ask_TheDonald. But a common theme with fascists is that they really, really don’t like anything that goes against the tradition.

Now explaining that is going to need a whole other post for me, because I’ll start talking about postmodernism, deconstructing traditions and what not, which is not what this post is about at all so I’ll write it about on another day.

If you are curious however, the video essay “Who’s Afraid of Modern Art: Vandalism, Video Games, and Fascism” by Jacob Geller is pretty good. It has nothing to do with linguistics, but I’m sure you could make your own links from watching it.


[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_change

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymology

[3]: https://www.etymonline.com/word/gender