Words that need a Time Out

January, 2019

Washington -- Words that have lost their meaning need to be retired or at least given a long vacation to see if they can come back refreshed. Here is my list, plucked from recent topical news and experiences.

Farm Bill. Most of the money in the Farm Bill does not go to farmers. In the last iteration, the meaning of farmers was expanded to include farmer-nieces and farmer-nephews, who may never have been on a farm.

Specialty Crops. That's what the Farm Bill calls food. (As in Michael Pollan's admonition, "Eat Food.") These foods – you probably call them fruits and vegetables – get second class treatment in the Farm Bill, after subsidized "commodity crops" that are mostly directed toward biofuels, or for processed foods sent overseas to globalize our obesity and diabetes epidemic.

Horticulture. In the Farm Bill, organic crops that are good for us are tucked away in the horticulture subsections, as if they are only for gardeners*, not farmers. What's wrong with the word agriculture for organics? Who writes these bills, farmer-nephews?

Entrepreneur. This French word has been useful in recent decades to describe legitimate business enterprises undaunted by calculated risk-taking. It has never implied scamming, until now. Etymology dictionaries henceforth should include its new meaning, as used by Liberty University when describing its official who moonlights by corruptly rigging political polls. He's just an "independent entrepreneur," according to this university. Maybe we should give the German word Unternehmer its chance instead, until it can likewise be corrupted.

Evangelical. For decades this word had a religious meaning. Now it has a political meaning. It needs a ten year hiatus to see if it can ever come back to its original sense. By the way, evangelisch in German means Protestant, if anyone is looking for refuge from its American political usage.

Guys. This was once slangy, as in the wonderful musical "Guys and Dolls." Back when, it would never be used to greet a mixed party entering a restaurant, for example. What word are we now supposed to use for "guys"? Can't we just go back to the plural word you, or you all, or folks, or even y'all, rather than ruin guys? The English have the sense not to call everyone blokes.

Student Financial Aid. How, exactly, is putting people into debt "aid"? The misuse of this word has exacted a great toll on the unwitting. Call grants grants; call loans loans; drop the word aid.

Innovation. As used now by the federal Department of Education, it has become a dog-whistle word to signal education "entrepreneurs" (see above) that the coast is clear to raid the U.S. Treasury with their schemes.

Dog-Whistle. Still a good word, at least for now. Would that we didn't have to wear it out, too.

* Nothing against horticulture in its correct sense. I am a gardener as well as a farmer. Just don't relegate the organic movement to gardening at a time when large farms are converting to organic methods to survive and to provide healthy food.