Empowerment & the power of dictionaries LO26260

From: Malcolm Burson (mburson@mint.net)
Date: 03/01/01

Replying to LO26250 --

The recent conversation on empowerment (most recently among Peggy, Bill,
and Rick in LO26250) is creating for me some ferment I'd welcome others'
comments on.

1. When Bill returns to the dictionary (as we seem often to do on LO),
and challenges Rick's re-definition of 'empowerment' since it seems
contrary to the given sense of the word as capable of being
granted/transacted from one to another, he seems to me to be replicating
his own position. That is, he is choosing to accept the power of the
dictionary's editors as able to determine his capacity to use the word.
Conversely, by moving beyond the 'official' meaning, Rick is claiming his
own power to add to, or even change, the power of the word: that is, he
is accepting an internal authority (empowerment, in his frame), and
declining to be limited by the externality. I'm not sure what to do with
this observation, I'm just intrigued by the parallelism.

2. In the grand scheme of things, we might try to place these two
approaches on a sort of continuum, from the Red Queen (was it she?)
saying, "words mean just what I say they mean" and thereby asserting her
solipsistic empowerment with regard to the meaning of words, on the one
hand; and those whose reverence for editorial decisions in print declares
that words in a dictionary are univocal, and thus can only mean what
someone else says them to mean. Somewhere else on this continuum (and
possibly it's non-linear) are those who, like our good brother At and
others, move behind the explicit definition to explore the etymological
and cultural roots of words as a means to tease them in a new direction.
>From my point of view, each of these approaches has something to offer,
provided that our agreed-upon goal is to discern sufficient shared and
common meaning that conversation and inquiry can proceed.

In the present discussion, this would mean Bill allowing the possibility
that there's room beyond the formal definition to explore new meaning; and
Rick allowing that even though he may be voicing an apparent contrary, the
formal definition still has sufficient truth in it to help us along,
and....anyone else who wrestles with these same issues adding their voice,
as I just did.

Seems to me that's just what the list is about. Thanks to all.



Malcolm C. Burson Director of Special Projects Maine Department of Environmental Protection mburson@mint.net

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