Saturday, March 21, 2009

The power of words and the definition of marriage

Look it up: Dictionaries recognized same-sex unions under 'marriage' years before states - WHO

The first year I taught third grade, a colleague lent me the book Frindle, to read to the kids. I had nothing else to read to them during SSR (Sustained Silent Reading time, after lunch), so I gladly accepted the book. Little did I know what I was in for...

The story is about this kid who butts heads with his English teacher. She's super mean and has this huge dictionary on this almost-shrine at the front of the room, because she practically worships words and language (and makes her students do tons of homework every night).

So the kid comes up with an idea, just to tick the teacher off. Instead of using the word "pen" for pen, he calls the pen a "frindle."

The kids in the class all jump on the bandwagon (at least until they all get detention, but that's secondary). The feud becomes so huge (because both characters are too pig-headed to back down) and soon the whole city is involved. People start making t-shirts with the word "frindle" on them. The local news, then the state news, then the national news start talking about this. It became a huge thing, and people all over the country started using the word "frindle."

Spoiler to follow, so skip the next paragraph if you're planning on reading this book.

At the end of the book, years after the kid has graduated (middle school and high school) and the teacher has long retired, the kid gets a package in the mail. From the teacher. It's the newest edition of the dictionary, with a note to turn to page so-and-so. Where the word "frindle" is listed, meaning "pen." Because the word became part of the general lexicon.

Will you think less of me if I tell you that ending made me cry?
Merriam-Webster said in a statement Wednesday that the edited entry merely reflected the frequency with which the term "same-sex marriage" had popped up in print and become part of the general lexicon.
This is what I love about languages. They are alive. And we control them.

What's the definition of "marriage"? Whatever we want it to be. However we use the word, that's how it's going to be used. Whatever meaning we give it, that's what it's going to mean.

Marriage is a union between two people who love each other and have made a commitment to love and cherish one another til death do them part. Whatever color, or sex, or size, or religious belief, or whatever they may be, whether a totally irrelevant third party thinks they "match" or not.

Same-sex, different-sex, it's still marriage. The dictionary has been saying so for years -- because we have.

1 comment:

  1. People get stuck on these definitions that have supposedly been unchanged for "ages" and forget how fluid time, history, and language truly are. Just a few decades ago "marriage" didn't include biracial couples. Now we just assume that to be the case.