Random Thoughts

Words meaning Changes and Misuse by Bush & Bin Laden

The distinguishing traits of humans are speech and analytical thinking. The ability of a parent to warn its young child to avoid the right fork with the lion's den on the way to the river is denied to the deer and its fawn. This gives the added survival advantage one needs by Darwin's law. Even ancient civilizations realized the importance of language as shown by the story of the Tower of Babel, the importance of the word (logos) in the beginning of the Bible or the importance of 'Shabda' in Hindu theology. Words move from one language to another because of a common origin from a proto-language as we see in father, mother, daughter, brother in Latin and Sanskrit. Their meaning remains the same as well. They may jump from one language to another without meaning change because of prolonged contact like colonization. The words jungle, pyjama, khakhi, pukka etc. are examples that transposed themselves to English from Hindustani. A lot more English words became Hindi words. Similarly from Persian and Turkish words likenan, pyaaz, jalebi, halwa, hammam etc entered Hindustani. All of these developed no meaning changes.

Other words changed their meaning in the two related or different languages. Such words had more than one meaning and the sister languages digressed by exclusively taking on one of the two meanings. In Sanskrit 'Vid' means to know, understand, learn, perceive, observe etc., but the emphasized meaning became to know. Its derivatives are Vidya and Vedas. In Latin the emphasized meaning is 'vide'- to see as in Caesar's famous words, 'veni, vidi, vici' (I came, I saw, I conquered). Vici didn't change meaning as in the Sanskrit vijaya and English victory). Vidi became vision, visualize and video in English. Of course, it is easily explained by the adage, to see is to know. The changes in meaning are of two categories, generalization and specialization.

Two Arabic words entered Hindi with interesting changes of meaning on a similar basis. Imaan in Arabic means belief, yet in Hindi the colloquial meaning is honor. Once again the stretch is that those who believe are presumably honorable. The other Arabic word is 'Qaeeda' meaning base or foundation as made notorious by Bin Laden. Since law is the main foundation of a society, in Hindi and Gujarati, the word has come to mean the law. This is more akin to specialization change. The Puri temple of Jagannath has an annual chariot procession where the heavy idol and chariot of Jagannath, literally Lord of the world (incidentally the English word Lord comes from loafward -keeper of bread, by upscaling and abbreviation to lord) is dragged from the temple to the sea. The whole contraption is dragged by devotees using ropes and needs tremendous manpower to get it rolling because of weight and inertia. Once started it cannot be stopped and thus juggernaut means unstoppable.

Looking at words through a political prism, one sees the irony. Seeing does not necessarily lead to knowledge or understanding, as Bush showed in his yearend news conference. What was obvious is that his words were disjointed and devoid of meaning. Absence of clarity in speech, often though not always, reflects muddled thinking. His lack of understanding of words and issues was reflected in his ignorance of the word reflexive and his inability to reflect. When asked about why he changed his stance from we are winning in Iraq to we are not winning, but we are not losing, his reply shows his inability to see, know, comprehend, understand and speak. It proves that all beliefs are not honorable and in this there is much in common with Bin Laden. There is one more commonality between them, apart from the belief that those who are not with them are against them. The arrogant certitude of misguided beliefs cannot masquerade as virtue or honor. Bin Laden needs to realize that the base of any cohesive group should not be terror and Bush needs to know that the foundation of a society, nation or civilization cannot be based on torture, aerial bombardment and bypassing habeas corpus, due process and by permanent incarceration without trial of citizens, permanent resident aliens or stray foreigners because some bounty hunter pointed a finger at them for a price.

The exoneration of two persons by a higher court in the Indian parliament terrorist attack and the criticizing rebuke by the US Supreme Court to the Bush administration for attempting kangaroo military tribunal trials leaves some hope for decency and due process, but the craven connivance of the supine Indian and US legislatures in passing laws that allow detaining without trial raises serious concerns. The US Congress legally sanctioned torture by the backdoor by exempting the CIA from Geneva conventions. Non-US citizens even if they are legal permanent residents do not have recourse to some important laws and constitution of the US. Colin Powell and the armed forces leaders objected to ignoring the Geneva Conventions but Bush and the Congress are deaf, dumb, full of fear and hate with some partial justification and devoid of common sense.

They are ignorant of the golden rule ' Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Their guiding principle in life is 'Do it to others before they do it to you', a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Eric Foner and a number of foreign policy pundits of the realist school have publicly stated, George W. Bush is the worst president in the history of the US. Single-handedly, he is responsible for the grave military, diplomatic, financial and definitely the moral damage to the US. This maybe the probable reason why his father the former president George Herbert Walker Bush publicly broke down and wept on television! 


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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