Burriss: What makes symbols "awe-full"


Here's something I've wondered about for some time, but in the last few weeks has gotten more of my attention: who decides some words and symbols are ok, and some aren't? And what gives them the right to make those decisions for the rest of us?

Words and symbols have no intrinsic meanings. They only mean what we say they mean. For example, call someone "awful," and they will be offended; however "awful" used to mean "full of awe." Someone who was awful was worthy of respect because they were "full of awe."

So who decided, for the entire English-speaking world, what the word "awful" is supposed to mean? I'd like to meet this language czar who is deciding, apparently for all of us, that some words are ok to use, and some aren't.

I also think there is a level of learned helplessness involved here. No one is born being offended by this word or that word. People have to be taught to be offended. They have to learn to be helpless. Unfortunately too many people are willing to learn to be offended or helpless.
I think the thought process goes like this: "So-and-so said I need to be offended when I hear such-and-such. I just heard such-and-such, so I'm going to be offended." This person doesn't even try to think for themselves, or try to figure out why they are offended. They are offended because someone told them to be.

Here's an experiment I'd like to try some time. You know that we can no longer use the terms BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini). We have to use BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era). Well, those terms are arbitrary. Who made that decision? But what if someone started a campaign and began using BCE to mean Before the Christian Era, and CE to mean Christian Era? I bet you could force the PC people to change the year designation yet again.

I wonder how much confusion and conflict we could end up causing for the thought police who are apparently trying to run everything and do our thinking for us!