Monday, January 16, 2012

The Declension of Words


Declension is a linguistic term describing how certain words are pronounced. What I'm writing about is not declension in the real literal sense of the word but there really is no English word (that I know of) which can explain what I'm thinking about. The spiritual declension and downgrading of words.

It was C S Lewis who clued me into this. He basically said that many words begin with clear meanings, glorious meanings, but then after a while, the meaning of the words descends to "the man side of things." Something like that.

I forgot what word he used but I'll show you an example.

Condescension.

Condescension WAS originally a word which meant "God was in heaven and he "descended" to earth in order to be one "CON" with man. Therefore the word has a glorious beginning.

Then the man side of things began stealing the word. God was pushed aside, then the sinful boasting aspect of man took the word over. Rich people now "condescended" to help the poor. Smart people "condescended" to speak to ignorant people. It's a case of human vanity accidentally changing the meaning of a word because the human soul needs this change. Why? Because the human soul cannot understand or endure the idea of God condescending. Condescension devolved even further and is now used to show our offense when some proud person speaks to us as if we were not equal to them. This is understandable. People who condescend don't have the love God has toward their fellows. Yes, a beautiful word has fallen far.

Words such as patience (which used to mean endurance) and charity (which used to mean holding someone dear) have all fallen along the spiritual roadside.

Declension can happen because of lack of comprehension and word change caused by ignorance of historical or theological truth. Or because of man's pride. The man side of things.

For instance, we are told in the Bible, "The light shines in darkness and the darkness Comprehended it not."
The original meaning of comprehend is "overcome." This is a spiritual issue. Dark cannot overcome light. But the man side of things lowered the meaning of the word...by pushing rationality atop something spiritual. The meaning of "Comprehend" now becomes "understand." The rationale mind can understand this concept, much better than a darkness which is overcome by light. Therefore the misunderstanding rules.

Consider also the word "Swaddling."
The prophecy was "You will find the Babe (Jesus) wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.
Originally, the meaning of swaddling is "clothes used to wrap the dead."
But the word descended from its glorious meaning to something the rationale mind could understand. After all, why should the baby be wrapped in dead-cloths? So now swaddle means babylike.

Consider the word "adorable." Why does a word that originally meant "Something to be adored" now mean "cute?"

Ponder the change of the Victorian word "penitentiary" (a place for criminals to become penitent and to learn penitence) to the current meaning of "jail." The Victorians meant well but corruption in anything (human, flora, or fauna, or morals) is irreversible. It cannot be patched up. A bad orange or spoiled milk cannot suddenly become good. The root of the corruption in man is moral decline based in self-love. So one cannot teach corrupted humanity, one can only change it totally through Christ. Because changing a corrupt thing requires a miracle, it is no wonder the Victorian "penitentiary" has become synonymous with "jail." It is difficult to change the spirit of self-centered man, criminals or not.

Think of the words "believe" and "hope."
They have slightly shifted from glory. When one says "one believes" it doesn't have as much power or strength or umph as when one says "I do not believe."

When one says "I hope" the word "hope" doesn't have the glorious power it should have. Nowadays, we consider "hope" a frail things with wings. But the Bible's definition of hope is stronger and more glorious. If a thing is hoped for in the Bible, it is a confident strong expectation of good.


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