The Pugilist: The Death Bed of a Word

You see, that what we are doing today as we look out upon our current religious modes of speech, is assisting at the death bed of a word. It is sad to witness the death of any worthy thing, — even of a worthy word. And worthy words do die, like any other worthy thing — if we do not take good care of them. How many worthy words have already died under our very eyes, because we did not take care of them! Tennyson calls our attention to one of them. “The grand old name of gentleman,” he sings, “defamed by every charlatan, and soil’d with all ignoble use.” If you persist in calling people who are not gentlemen by the name of gentleman, you do not make them gentlemen by so calling them, but you end by making the word gentleman mean that kind of people. The religious terrain is full of the graves of good words which have died from lack of care — they stand as close in it as do the graves today in the fiats of Flanders or among the hills of northern France. And these good words are still dying all around us. – B.B. Warfield, “Redeemer” and “Redemption”

One thought on “The Pugilist: The Death Bed of a Word”

  1. I’ve seen this idea expressed before in other places. Here are two other facets that I’ve seen explored:

    1) If a word ceases to mean what it once did and people must keep the idea alive, they must create a new word. Hence, “Christian” becomes “born-again Christian,” becomes “Christ follower,” becomes “lover of Christ,” etc.
    2) If a new word/phrase is not created/used and meaning is not restored to the old one, then the idea will necessarily die out. If we have not words to express an idea, then it will not be talked about or written about; then, the ideas represented cannot be passed to the next generation. For instance, the idea of awe is not easily understood today; much of this has to do with the 80s use and overuse of the word “awesome.”
    3) The remedy to 1 and 2 then is not to keep creating new words/phrases, but to re-infuse the original word with meaning. To take a page from my music education training: in preaching/teaching, explain the idea and then label it. This doesn’t have to be a manufactured thing, e.g. “[explanation of idea]. This is called [word].” It can be very natural, to the point that, though planned, it can come across as impromptu. e.g. “When we are gazing into the glory of God as revealed in Scripture and as revealed in creation, it should fill us with wonder! We should be amazed at what God has done and what he can do – so much that as we contemplate it more and more we are ever-increasingly baffled by how glorious, how magnificent, how *awesome * our God is!”

    On a very parenthetical side note: Though I once hated the time that I spent as a music ed major and thought that I had wasted that time, I am consistently becoming more thankful for it, in small increments. [tongueincheek] Whaddayaknow, the Creator actually knows what’s best for his creation! [/tongueincheek]


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