Words with meaning

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It was just a few days ago when a couple of experiences led me to realize that words can lose their meaning. Discussing an emerging female pop singer, my cousin exclaimed, “Isn’t she sick?!” to which my aunt became confused. “Sick? Does she have an illness or a virus?” We all giggled, but I was left there wondering – why should “sick” indicate “cool” when in the dictionary “sick” is defined as meaning ill, unwell, or in poor health, nothing at all which would indicate anything good.

A few hours later I was watching an older episode of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, in which his guests, Kambiz Hosseini and Saman Arbabi, explained how they try not to use hyperboles when identifying people. Labels such as socialist, fascist, or Nazi are thrown around to represent unpleasant things people have done or said. The original dictionary definitions of these words are no longer used outside of a political science course. Now, they merely mean “someone I don’t like.” For example, Democrats in the United States call Republicans “Nazis”, Republicans call President Obama a socialist, and anyone who puts any sort of restrictions or limitations is called a fascist.

Jon Stewart’s interview with Kambiz Hosseini and Saman Arbabi was so entertaining that I wanted to share it with my brother. Composing an email with the link, I wrote in the subject line “amazing interview,” and then I stopped. “Amazing?” I was also guilty of extending the meaning of a word.

Amazing has been tagged onto everything, so that nothing really is that amazing anymore. Even in the Baha’i writings, I can become overly familiar with certain words, merely reading them over and not grasping their deep implication. Some words, such as “worthy” and “mercy,” explode with profound meaning. Yet, those words can lose their intense significance if they are not reflected upon properly.

I understand that words can change their meanings over the years, sometimes deliberately and sometimes accidentally. One common example of this change is the word “gay”, which at one time meant “happy” and now is used to describe someone’s sexual orientation. However, even as words lose their meaning, and gay is not happy but sick is definitely cool, it is important for us to remember what a great bounty we have in being able to express ourselves with a wide range of words. In composing that email to my brother, I could have not only used “amazing”, but “remarkable”, “engaging”, “amusing”, “witty”, or even “interesting”.

The Bab, Baha‘u’llah [the Founders of the Baha’i Faith], ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice [The governing body] also have a multitude of various words that they have been able to choose from in  composing anything from revelation to legislation and guidance. The words that they have selected have been perfectly placed in order to allow us to understand, to interpret, and to be inspired. Since there is no clergy in the Baha’i Faith, the text and literature is relied upon so that each individual may read the passages for themselves and acquire knowledge by independently studying.

Words are too important to lose their shine or prominence. I know that sometimes I need to take a pause and ponder my choice of words before I spew them out, and more importantly, understand why certain words have been selected in the Baha’i writings. As Baha‘u’llah has revealed in The Kitab-i-Iqan, “…those words that have streamed forth from the source of power and descended from the heaven of glory are innumerable and beyond the ordinary comprehension of man… Ponder a while those holy words in your heart, and, with utter detachment, strive to grasp their meaning… With fixed and steady gaze, born of the unerring eye of God, scan for a while the horizon of divine knowledge, and contemplate those words of perfection which the Eternal hath revealed, that haply the mysteries of divine wisdom, hidden ere now beneath the veil of glory and treasured within the tabernacle of His grace, may be made manifest unto you.”

In addition to practicing law, serving mankind, and seeking
creativity, Tala likes to color her life with the chaos of trouble.
You can find her blogging at www.tatulip.blogspot.com.


  1. Mahyad Rahnamaie

    20 July, 2011 at 5:06 am

    I agree with you Tala Jaan.
    Let’s put the blame partially on Journalists, literary/art/movie critics who use very heavy words to describe something very mundane. We all see the misuse of language so much that we’ve become gradually desensitized. Thanks for the reminder. Love, M.R.

  2. Oak

    17 September, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    Poignant and engaging post, Tala!

    I have also noticed the trend of throwing unjust and inaccurate terminology around in the political realm, and have found myself frustrated to find how much it lessens people’s interest in engaging with the independent investigation of truth once these labels have been applied by a figure that an individual may trust(pastors, party leaders, family members, “journalists”).

    My interest lies in what to do with social issues when the terminology has gotten so fraught with maladaptive language patterns that many participating are unsure as to the validity of their claims, but have the social pressure of appearing “right” as a posture. They then engage with said topics in a combative way, not truly allowing room for consultation…

    Much to think on…

  3. Dimitri Tishler

    16 December, 2011 at 7:55 am

    Thank you Tala for your own words. We should cherish the meaning available in words. But often we become over familiar with the prayers and writings in the Baha’i Faith. Here’s to rediscovering words anew each day and ascending the ladder of the spiritual worlds.