Words are powerful, multidimensional things. A small collection of symbols that can represent a years long conflict, a philosophy that governs a nation or an emotion that binds us together for a lifetime. Forget the politics for a minute and think about how our language is affected by recent events. I will miss the word occupy. It has a new meaning that overshadows all others. No one can use the word today without an image coming to mind that probably has little to do with what might have come to mind last year.
Depending on your bias, if someone uses “occupy” even in casual conversation we will either think of spoiled Americans in desperate need of a shave whining about student loans nobody made them take out or we imagine a young girl fighting injustice being dosed in the face with pepper spray by riot gear clad paramilitary police. This is what occupy now means on the surface of our collective bipolar mind.
I can’t use it to talk about moving into a new place. Can’t even use it to talk about the Germans in France during WWII. The word is now owned by more recent history. Purchased not by the movement itself but by the images surrounding it.
Other words are owned to greater or lesser degrees by history. Holocaust for example. Not to suggest there is any equivalency, moral or otherwise but the effect on the language is the same. You just can not use that word to refer to anything else without evoking the historical reference and images that go with it. Technology has ruined it’s share of words too. For instance I can not just “like” anything anymore without that insipid thumbs up icon popping into my brain.
I wonder just how many hits thesaurus.com is getting for occupy these days. Surely every journalist and copy writer is being bludgeoned by their editors to avoid it for the time being. I can’t find things to occupy my time and no concern will be allowed to occupy my thoughts. I will have to fill, attend or monopolize but I will not occupy. Unless I want an argument.
There is so much conversation today about the explosion of data. But for all the zetabytes of storage filled with cell phone pictures, videos and blog posts we forget just how powerful a single word can be. The range of emotions, thoughts and experiences that can be evoked. We try in our own pitiful way to describe this depth using terms like context, semantics and ontology. All complex ideas in and of themselves that try to describe the acts of understanding, recognition and application.
When a word like occupy is isolated into a single historical interpretation we clearly see what is best described by a very unscientific idea – words are pure magic. The magic word occupy now conjures up an illusory fog in anyone that hears it. Otherwise rational people lose the ability to have a reasonable, logical discussion about what is really wrong and what can be done about it in the physical realm. We step out of the real world and lob generalizations and demonizing simplicities at each other like it is the end of a Harry Potter movie.
One day it will be safe to use the “o” word again but I am afraid that may be a very long time.