What You Say, What They Hear

In my article “Let Freedom Ring“, I asked “What does it mean to be free?” How can we do that? How can we ask what a word means? The answer is simple — that words have meanings. Those meanings can be confused; we can be confused.

This means we have to be clear about the words we use — and clear from at least two perspectives. We must ask ourselves: How am I using this word? Am I using it correctly? Am I using it unambiguously?

And we must ask ourselves: How might others interpret this word?

The word could be “omnipotent”:

God is omnipotent. Since God can do anything, then God must be able to sin. Since God can do anything, God can make a square circle. Neither is true, and for the same reason: “omnipotent” does not mean “able to do anything”. It means “all-powerful”, and neither sinning nor making square circles is a matter of power. One is a matter of morality; the other is a matter of logic. One does not sin because he is powerful enough but because he is fallen. One doesn’t make square circles any more than they flim flam floop. (The phrase is meaningless.)

The word could be “catholic”:

Grand Canyon University, a non-Catholic Christian university, believes “in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ as one holy catholic and apostolic Church…”1 They believe in the catholic Church, but not in the Catholic Church — in the spiritual unity but not the physical unity. When Ignatius of Antioch first said the word “catholic”, how did he mean it: as spiritual unity of all believers or as a visible body? St. Ignatius refers to where the bishops are and  where Christ is, which suggests something physical and visible in additional to spiritual.

The word could be “nothing”, as in “creation from nothing”.  The word could be “right”, as in “a woman’s right to choose”. It could be “free” or “saved” or “choice”. It could be “God” or “life”.

Words have meanings. Which meaning do you mean? What one might your audience hear?

1. Grand Canyon University, Doctrinal Statement, accessed September 6, 2013, http://www.gcu.edu/About-Us/Doctrinal-Statement.php.

Copyright © 2013, Joe Wetterling

Joe Wetterling

Joe Wetterling

Joe Wetterling is a professional educator, homeschooling dad, and writer. He's appeared at national conferences, both secular and religious, speaking on education, technology, and philosophy. Joe writes online for New Evangelizers, as well as his own blogs. He's taught in the Holy Apostles MOOC program and currently teaches Natural Theology at the new Dominican Institute. He's a member of the Militia Immaculata and current President of the Catholic Writers Guild. Learn more about him at JoeWetterling.com.

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