Monday, March 23, 2015

TomAEto tomAHto - Semantics are cool

          Have you ever repeated a word, any mundane word -lamp, tire, mistletoe- over and over again until it eventually loses all meaning (and sounds like season’s greetings in some alien tongue)?
           If you have, then you have experienced what is known as Semantic Saturation. You’ll also understand why sometimes some popular words and phrases get distorted into only vaguely familiar versions of themselves as they are repeated excessively and passed from mouth to mouth. Words often get used in different contexts, and gradually, they come to mean different things. It is Semantic Saturation in a society.

          One word that has long been a victim of this Societal Semantic Saturation is the word, “given”. For something to be for given free -a helping hand lent, or veteran advice offered- it must be a non-refundable present, one in which the presenter expects no returns. To give for free is to give with no thoughts other than those related to the giving itself.

Today, the word “giving” is used in place of the word “exchanging.” To give for free today, is to do someone a favor in return for a favor they will do for you in the future. ‘Giving’ implies that your present will be returned in another form sometime in the future. Today giving is not a present, it is a mere loan.
“Nothing is for free,” my economics teacher stressed as he taught us the workings of trade, “the economic systems of the country pivots on this fact.” In the world around us, trade is glorified and exchanging favors is what is expected, it is the norm. People today give with intentions of gain because that is the mentality that the system has instilled in them. To stop this Semantic Saturation of the word giving, we must stop referring to such mere transactions of favors as presents of generosity
         While the economy runs on trade, society -human interactions alone- does not. Social relationships are not business partnerships; they are not founded on the terms of mutual materialistic benefit; giving, in a relationship is not in return for (or to intentionally elicit) the other’s generosity, it is simply for the pleasure of giving joy to the other. If social relationships themselves are becoming subtle forms of trade, then the word "given" has definitely been distorted.