An excerpt from Gary Lawrence’s forthcoming book “The Magnificent Gift of Agency; To Act and Not Be Acted Upon.”

When we discuss scary events, it’s natural to think of all the disasters foretold in the last days before the wonderful Second Coming of the Savior – storms, famines, flies, and shaky faults among them. 

But I suggest there’s something even more scary and it’s found in Isaiah 5:20 (and repeated in 2 Nephi 15 for emphasis):

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil;
that put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

Why? Because when man blurs the meaning of words, concepts are robbed of clarity and people doubt their undergirding institutions and traditional values.

Civilization is impossible without words that clearly communicate agreed-upon meaning. 

It begins innocently enough, even humorously, with double meaning …

The men have left and the women are left.
The full moon was out when the lights went out.
This car could really go until it started to go.

… and fancy speak:

A recession is negative economic growth. 
The homeless are involuntarily undomiciled.
The unemployed are economically marginalized.

New words add to the mix.  We have bitcoins, emojis, paywalls, staycations, and upcycles.  We have megachurches and microaggressions and memes.  People around us may be sheeple, muggles, or noobs who get “pwned” (soundly defeated).  We ping, tweet, hashtag, unfriend; we take selfies and usies.  We’re woke.  Meh. 

Then comes softening the bad by substituting words of a lighter touch:

Even turning things 180 degrees:

Stigmas are erased small steps at a time.  For example, an excess money supply can lead to undesirable consequences, and a commodity that government can create for the price of paper makes many uncomfortable.  So printing money became monetizing the debt and is now called quantitative easing, an opaque phrase with airs if there ever was one.

Similarly, dole became welfare became relief became assistance became entitlement.  Great irony, that.  A title has value and, except for aristocratic inheritance, results from effort such as earning a degree.  It is one thing to remove a stigma, quite another to make it a lofty honor. 

The word whoredom has almost disappeared.  Whores became prostitutes, then streetwalkers, then ladies of the night, and now are escorts.  Talk about cheapening a noble word. 

And perversion is now simply an alternative lifestyle.

I would encourage us to be especially watchful how eight words are used in today’s news reports and discussions:

Love:  The standard is clear: love one another as God and the Savior love us.  But the word has been cheapened and kidnapped, and now means whatever one feels an attraction for or gets a kick out of.

Equality.  The battle is between those who use the word to affirm equality of opportunity and those who desire equality of outcome no matter the effort.  

Freedom.  Too many incorrectly view it as a right to do whatever one wishes … without  consequence.  Unfortunately, liberty and libertine (philanderer) stem from the same Latin root.

Choice.  Integral as can be to the whole concept of agency, it’s been co-opted in the phrase “pro-choice.”  As President Dallin H. Oaks explained, “The slogan or sound bite ‘pro-choice’ has had an almost magical effect in justifying abortion and in neutralizing opposition to it.”  In today’s parlance, it means anti-consequence.

Diversity.   Traditionally, a range or variety of things.  But now it’s an excuse to diverge from a traditional value, to mix pluses and minuses.  We now have ironic reversal:  those who diverged from traditional values now oppose on grounds of diversity those who diverge from their divergence.         

Inclusive.  Originally meant comprehensive and inviting, a non-coerced sharing of common values, but now used to demand not only entry but also approval.

Tolerance.  We grant all people the freedom to run their own lives even if we disagree with their choices.  But tolerance is now more than putting up with differences; it means acceptance and approval of opposite beliefs or practices, else be flogged with the hate word intolerant

Discrimination.   Once indicative of an appreciation of finer things – a discriminating taste was seen as positive – it now means hatred toward one category of people or another.

Ever heard the phrase “the new normal”?

Slippery changes in words can indeed be scary and lead to confusion, anarchy, and destruction. 

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Gary Lawrence is a public opinion pollster and author in Orange County, California.