A few recent posts have gotten me thinking about a word problem. Don't worry, not like math, actually a problem relating to words and phrases. There are some words out there whose common or contemporary meaning clashes with an older or literal meaning. I'm not talking about cases where the meaning has just changed over time, I'm talking about where there is actually the potential for bona fide conflict.
Specifically, I'm thinking of cases where the problem has real political or philosophical impacts. For example, when I premised my review of Prayers for the Assassin on its assault on liberalism, someone called me out and said that actually, American leftists aren't liberals--using the philosophical definition of classical liberalism as a guidepost. Now, I actually think most American liberals are more "liberal" than conservatives, but the point is that these terms are easily hijacked by really aggravating people who think they're making a clever point, despite the fact that none of us had any say in the development of our political lexicon. Similarly, David Bernstein has a post up about Juan Cole using the phrase "anti-Semitism" to refer to racism against Arabs, on the grounds that they're a "Semitic" people too. Of course he's technically right, and I'll grant that the choice of terminology used to refer to anti-Jewish sentiment was unfortunate, but seriously. Nearly everybody knows what "anti-Semitism" is meant to refer to in these contexts, and the use of it otherwise is simply distortive.
Are there any other words where these problems come up?