What’s in a name?
Tonight I’m gay, delighted by the importance people are suddenly placing on words. For years I have regretted the demise of useful distinctions between pairs such as “fewer” and “less” and I had fallen into despair about people ever caring again about words. And suddenly there are two hot debates about the choice of words on the front pages of the newspapers: “marriage” and “nation”.
Let’s take the latter first. Various federal (I almost said “national”) politicians have suddenly started declaring either that the Province of Quebec is, or is not, a nation. The Prime Minister, Mr Harper, (you’d better use that link quickly, it’s a minority government) has declared that “Quebec is a nation within a united Canada” thereby robbing the word “nation” of any meaning at all. I have no opinion on the subject of Quebec nationhood but, speaking from the point of view of linguistic philosophy, it’s interesting that people would appear to believe that, by applying the name “nation” to something, it actually becomes a nation. Similarly, I suppose, if we start talking about the Universe of Quebec, it will become a universe. Strange.
I have no real interest, beyond the linguistic one, either in Quebec’s nationhood or in homosexual marriage but this latter word is another topic of debate here at the moment and the principle is the same: calling something a “civil union” is apparently OK with almost everyone but calling it a marriage will somehow make it one (if it wasn’t already). I’m a bit hazy about religious doctrine but I remember learning that marriage, as a sacrament, is an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”. If so, then marriage is a state (or grace) and I can apply the word to the two books lying open on my desk in front of me without the least effect.
So, we have an active and impassioned debate about the precise meaning of words and whether words are just names. This is wonderful and perhaps will eventually get rid of some of the “6 Items or Less” checkout points in supermarkets.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my Welsh brother-in-law who last week bought me a book entitled “Welsh National Heroes” which is apparently about heroes from the Province of Wales.