Words are composed of fragmented meanings. I teach my students to use prefixes and suffixes to decode the unknown and teach them that knowledge of the root is essential. Yet, at times, they still fail to understand. Without the ability to dissect all the parts, we stumble over comprehension, start wars over wording, and misinterpret nuances meant for narrow audiences. On the other hand, without the ability to reassemble them exactly as the writer intended, we gain nothing. Their philosophy is for naught.
George Orwell offered irreverent words at the expense of generals, “To a surprising extent the war-lords in shining armor, the apostles of the martial virtues, tend not to die fighting when the time comes. History is full of ignominious getaways by the great and famous.” Ignominious? This word is derived from the same root as ignoble, ignoramus, ignorance, ignorant. “Ig” is a prefix meaning “not” attached to the root “noble” meaning “with honor”. Will analysis of the term aid my understanding? Should I study the history surrounding the quote and Orwell’s viewpoints?
While I analyze the words, children play with them: The ignorant ignoramus acted with ignominious ignorance.
Politicians spar: His policies regarding the education system are pure ignorance.
Writers write: Beyond the bounds of ignominious deceit, our future lays ground to dust.
Friends say: I’ll ignore your crass behavior this time, but don’t let it happen again.
Each day I place the most interesting words together for weapons of persuasion, soothing détente, biting sarcasm, or elegant oration and send them over post, through wires, and across the room. Abraham Lincoln wrote his famous Address on the back of an envelope en route to Gettysburg. Mother Teresa said, “We are pencils in the hand of God.” John F. Kennedy spoke our greatest illustration of community, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
If only the parts placed together in a graceful whole were able to speed us to complete understanding. We could communicate the very depths of our souls and the essence of our universe. Instead, our humanity and bias trample freedom of expression offering only a poignant schism. Should we then withdraw into silent isolation? What do I tell my students?
If Galileo had fearfully refused to defend his heliocentric view of the solar system, he would not have suffered the Inquisition, and the church might still view earth as the center of the solar system. If Rosa Parks had remained in the back of the bus, her words unspoken, she would have avoided jail and humiliation, and I would not have a role model today.
Words. WORDS. I believe they are a powerful, extraordinary entitlement. Use them with caution and abandon.
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