Alan Clark
Richard Young

Richard Young

In the seventh grade, we learned that “semantics” was the study of the meaning of words.

Depending on the context, words can mean different things to different people. The meaning depends upon who is writing/speaking the words and who is reading/listening to the words.

Historically, politicians have relied on semantics to explain what they meant by what they said or wrote.

When questioned they will commonly reply that they said was taken out of context. Ah yes, “context”. That sly alteration of a word’s meaning commonly exploited by politicians to explain what they said.

By altering the common meaning of words, politicians belie the common man’s understanding of political speaking or writings. 

Today’s politicians have gone even further. When pushed to explain what they meant by a statement they have made, politicians today tend to rely on what appears to be the Humpty Dumpty philosophy as first highlighted in a classic 1871 novel by Lewis Caroll. In “Through the Looking Glass,” Humpty tells Alice “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

What we are seeing is the ultimate obfuscation of our language and meaning of words.

For example, in today’s parlance “illegal” means “undocumented”, “thug” means the “N-word”, a “man” is not a “male” and a “woman” is not a “female”. We can no longer count on what anyone says, especially if it involves a media event.

 What is spoken can later be “miss-spoke,” or “spun” to mean something entirely different. It has become all too common to hear a politician say one thing today and then hear them explain that what he/she said is totally different in a new context tomorrow.

What can we count on?

We can count on confusion, and divisiveness, and incivility, as politicians jockey for the upper hand, the win, the power.

Politicians will say one thing one day and have it mean something else the next in their quest to get elected to a position of power. Today’s journalists and TV commentators are no better; especially, those self-proclaimed elitists who look at Southerners as illiterate rubes.

They still confuse education with intelligence.

This brings to mind a lecture by the distinguished professor, Dr. B. F. Jones, in his American history class in 1968 at Tennessee Tech.

In his initial class lecture, he admonished us to ask this question anytime we were considering politics - “What’s the name of the game?”

To which he added, the bottom line answer will always be - “Power”.

It’s sad commentary that the quest for power is so important to our political parties that they avoid compromise on important issues just to flex their power.

We leave you with this logic from another “Through the Looking Glass” character, Tweedledee, brother of Tweedledumb.

When Alice asks his advice, he responds “Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t.”

Tweedeldee would have fit in well with today’s politicians.

Oh - we forgot to explain the meaning of Jabberwocky.

In “Through the Looking Glass,” Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice that the poem “Jabberwocky” is made up of invented words and written backwards (emphasis added).

Alice came up with the idea of decoding it by holding it up to the “looking-glass.” Maybe that’s the answer, we should be doing the same.

Alan Clark’s editorials are the opinions of the author only and do not represent the policies of this newspaper. Check out more of Clark’s columns via podcasts on iTunes and in his most recent book, “You Oughtta Know, Volume One: 2017-2018,” published by Lakeway Publishers, Inc.