One of the best ways to study a nation’s culture is to study her words.
Every year, the nation goes abuzz for a few days as the dictionaries of record announce their newest entries.
As words like “emoticon,” “face-palm” and “binge-watch” are ceremoniously added to our lexicon, we collectively shake our heads and ponder the good ol’ days.
…The days before “truther” needed its own entry.
But what doesn’t get much attention – and should – is the annual updates and tweaks to existing words. While most folks chatter about crazy new entries like “Seussian” (of, related to, or suggestive of the works of Dr. Seuss), our language is quietly changing.
And nobody notices.
We stumbled upon the idea recently.
Don’t ask us how, but we uncovered the words Noah Webster used to define “patriotism” back in 1828:
Love of one’s country; the passion which aims to serve one’s country, either in defending it from invasion, or protecting its rights and maintaining its laws and institutions in vigor and purity. Patriotism is the characteristic of a good citizen, the noblest passion that animates a man in the character of a citizen.
Hmmm… the entry deserves a bit of head scratching.
We think our readers would nod their heads and agree with the idea of nobility, vigor and purity in the definition. But we can’t help but think the prevailing culture would have a different take on things.
We couldn’t stop ourselves from seeing what the modern Webster had to say about things.
The brevity is stunning.
Patriotism: love for or devotion to one’s country.
That’s all. Nothing about rights or character. No mention of nobility or serving. And certainly no opinion on the notion of a “good” citizen.
Nope, not these days.
Instead, the word nerds made the definition gender neutral and authoritarian.
The Modern Patriot
We’re not surprised. After all, our words reflect our culture – neutered people use neutered words.
What’s crazy, though, is the patriots we know (like the one in the mirror) would never agree with the modern definition of the word. We’d nod our heads and say amen to the 19th-century version but would be utterly confused by what’s printed these days.
We raise the point not to argue with some ink in a book. And we certainly don’t intend to throw political punches.
No, we look at this evolution as a wake-up call for our good pal Liberty.
As our words change, so do our acts. And as the might behind the idea of patriotism wanes, so does our Liberty.
We can’t help but look at the old definition and see it as more of a verb than a noun. It’s bristling with action.
The patriot of yesteryear served, defended, protected and maintained.
Today, we’re told, he (or she) merely loves it.
That’s a troubling idea. After all, Liberty is rarely something that needs love. But it must always be protected and defended.
We beg readers to ponder this simple yet vital idea. We ask that folks understand that neither of these definitions puts the person or his politics above the needs and demands of a free nation. And we remind folks that there’s nothing keeping the definition from changing again.
It’s the culture that leads the words – not the other way around.
If we want to see that 1828 definition in print once again, it’s up to us to ensure our actions write the words.
Our Liberty depends on it.