Words are neutral. They convey no meaning; rather they are a means of conveyance. And words are only combinations of letters strung together to convey their authors meaning, or more precisely their author’s context (which give words their meaning). With these realizations in mind, know that I did not write this essay with intent to attack these words or even their context. Instead, I am simply trying to state my beliefs, that these three words: new, authentic, and progress are the most commonly misused words in the English language.
What does it mean to be new? If you think that the definition of new means completely different from the old or traditional, than I say that meaning is wrong. Truly, nothing is new. To be “new” means to be a recently made combination of old material. The literary genre postmodernism, though created as a reactionary movement to modernism, realizes that it is still drawn from the same pool of old ideas where modernism and every other literary genre emerged. Although postmodernism is “new” in the sense that it is different from other literature, how different could it be when it is composed from the same sources as all others? Likewise as nothing is actually new, nothing is actually old. Instead all “new” ideas are chiseled out differently from the same slab of material. In short, anything called “new” is actually just a recycled version of old material. So what is the real meaning of “new”? Any recent creation formed from old material.
What does it mean to be authentic? Is authenticity to mean genuine, real, or original? If so, then this is another misnomer. All people are blinded by their perception, not enlightened. We see only what we can and from there draw conclusions. Perceiving something “authentic” makes it, even if no one else agrees. Everyone has birthday memories. Now everyone’s’ memories are different because of their perception. But these are genuine memories. However, they are not authentic. Since, everyone’s idea of authenticity differs from all else, there cannot be any definitive authentic birthday memories. The truth is that perception makes everything authentic and inauthentic. And furthermore, aren’t simulacrums equally genuine if they are carbon copies of the genuine? Because of this, the word “authentic” can’t be used to mean genuine. Instead it should be used mean something that is believable or factually credible.
What does it mean to be progressive? The definition is always said to be advancement forward, toward improvement. But that is the connotation. The denotation is more simple, an advancement from one position to another. So why must “progress” be used to suggest a change for the better? And how why do we actually know what is better? This is based upon perception. Liberals hope for progress toward greater liberalism, while conservatives feel otherwise. But which way is the better of the two? Progress should not mean advancement for the better since everyone’s idea of better is different. The civil rights movement was progressive, it moved America from one position to another, but ask any racist if they feel it was “progressive” in the sense of betterment. So the remedy is simple, do not use the word to mean advancement toward betterment, but simply a movement to a new position.
I have stated my beliefs about these words, not attacked their misusage. We must stop thinking that “new” means original, that “authentic” means genuine, and that “progress” is movement toward improvement. These words do not need deletion or modification, simply more sophisticated and more careful usage. George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language advice needs heeded. And we can easily begin with three simple misused words.
This essay could never have been written without the tutelage of Mr. Jolliffe, Mr. Barnett, and George Carlin.
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