I was reading "Saint Frances of Assisi" by Chesterton and he said something about being the "fag-end of the faggot" and it got me thinking. Nothing concrete, see, but just a whirring in my mind. This man spells the phenomenon of the perception of a specific spectrum of light "colour", so we should take what he writes with a hand on the dictionary. There are other words, like faggot, that have been, well, shifted over the years. "Thong" used to mean "sandal" and now means "a clothless panty". "Gay" used to mean "happy" and now means "lame", which used to mean "crippled" and now means "less than ideal" which is my current working definition of "sucks". "Sucks" used to be a verb for the force used to draw a fluid along a pipe. This shifted to a specific fluid down a pipe-like fixture. Now it's a general word, much like every other four letter word out there, which means just about whatever you want it to mean. And this brings me, in my "free association" mind scramble, to a discussion of Meaning and Language. More specifically: How are Language and Meaning connected?
Those who ascribe to the "Muted Group Theory" of communication--which states that because English was developed by white males it has consistently oppressed the minorities and women, and which is the only theory I remember from my college class on the subject of theories of communication because it was so totally bunk--would likely say that Meaning is defined by Language and it must have taken a radical visionary to give voice to the homosexual community by giving them a less "socially-stigmatized" word by which to define themselves, which has inevitably lead us to today's inane definition of "gay".
Others would say that Language is merely a mode of transmitting Meaning, and Meaning can be had even if the words are garbled, like a scene where a character spouts out "Why that f-ing f-er f-ed my f-ed-up f-ing f-, so now I'm f-ing going to f- him up". Surprisingly, this makes sense.
Perhaps this ultimately goes back to audience. Depending on when and where you are in the world, a faggot is either a stick or on par with a racial slur. And while this is very important to us as communicators, it is equally essential when we are listeners. We must be careful to filter everything we read and hear through the context from which the speaker is speaking. Otherwise the Bible is unclear, the Constitution meaningless, and our laws inert.
So what do we mean by a "cubit"? What are "britches"? And how would we know if we were the very "fag-end of the faggot"?
Often, we must look to the past to understand it. Looking back with "20/20 Hindsight" often gives us the wrong impression because our world is not their world, our words not theirs, and we have a tendency to be rather stuck-up about our perception. Likely, to find more meaning and truth we need more humility.
Humility does not say that we are wrong, but it allows for the possibility. Humility lets us be assertive and certain while at the same time cautious and correctable. We can learn if we are humble, and we have much to learn from the past. It may be a good idea to not only read Chesterton, but also "The Dictionary of Disagreeable English" to lay a fun, albeit "la-di-da" (what?), foundation to our understanding of the world we now experience from the lessons of the past.
So, please, keep your britches on and your eyes open because whether your thongs are worn on your feet or between your butt-cheeks, we could all use more humility so as not to end our lives with an epitaph that states: Here lies the fag end of the faggot, may he burn forever.