Thinking Out Loud

April 28, 2013

When the Meanings of Words Change

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:11 am


RadicalEnglish is a constantly-changing language. The World English Dictionary defines pejoration as “semantic change whereby a word acquires unfavorable connotations.”

I was reminded of this on Friday when a friend pointed out the title of a popular book by David Platt, Radical. The tragedy in Boston two weeks ago was a reminder of the radical elements in our world. We speak of students being radicalized.  The word has taken on nuances of meaning that weren’t present in the past.

The call of Jesus is a call to live a radical life, and nobody puts that idea across better than David Platt, which accounts for the book’s bestseller status. And we hate to have to surrender a perfect adjective to the effects of mass media and popular culture.  But it is incumbent on communicators to choose their terminology carefully; to make their message and intention crystal clear.

Do you think this is over-reaction, or do you think my friend was being highly alert in spotting a linguistic shift that has negative repercussions if we are misunderstood?


  1. Papa always said, “Never use a 10-cent word when a penny-one will do”. If a word has lost context because of society’s abuse or overuse, use another one. Look what the early Christians did with the word Agape (and other variants of it); they turned ‘love’ on its side by redefining it via the power of a new, hardly-used word. I think your friend might have a tendency toward extremes though … is he always that intense?

    Comment by flagrantregard — April 28, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

  2. I am a natural noticer. Small things sometimes jump out at me, like your friend’s observation about “radical”. It is good to pause with noticers, mull over whether they are straining at gnats or pointing out something profound.

    Comment by yokedwithhim — April 28, 2013 @ 9:07 pm

    • God grant me the wisdom to know who is straining at gnats, who is saying something profound, and the wisdom to know the difference. (That’s a famous prayer, right?)

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — April 28, 2013 @ 9:10 pm

  3. Maybe David Platt had two groups in mind. Those blood-bought, adopted children of the living God who want to be challenged and want to be the people God wants them to be, understand what he means by the word ‘radical’. At the same time, maybe those with another viewpoint on the word may be drawn in to another kind of thinking.

    I have been told we should no longer use the word ‘fundamental’ to describe Christian belief as it now has another meaning.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — April 29, 2013 @ 12:31 am

    • Yes, I’ve always thought that the Gospel should also appeal to those who are looking for a cause, looking for something they can can commit wholeheartedly to, give their lives to.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — April 29, 2013 @ 8:47 am

  4. If you look at the sub-title (Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream), it is easily understood that this is a radical stand. I attend the church that David Platt pastors and know that this title was given with the best and purest intentions. If I am sold out for Christ I don’t mind being labeled a radical and probably should expect it. Look in the Bible at Christ, I believe many thought that He was a radical.

    Comment by chaplainmiller — April 29, 2013 @ 7:00 am

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