Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Contesting Contexts or Contextual Contests?

Some words are great levelers. While they soar in contexts that are complex, sacred or respectable, they also serve to deflate those very contexts by finding usage in polar opposites. This raises pointed questions about the people who came up with the varied usage of these words - they were definitely double-agents for the dark side.

  • Swear - A gloriously multi-faceted word that begs close inspection. You can swear in the name of god to proclaim truthfulness and integrity, swear in the name of god to express shock/anger and basically blaspheme, swear to invoke hell/evil and blaspheme again, solemnly swear to uphold a declaration or a position in society, or just simply swear to your heart's content (here you stand the risk of swearing out your welcome). The last one has maximum potential as well as honest emotional value. What is key regarding this word is that you can swear in the name of god and be either religious or blasphemous! This beats Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.
  • Institution, Committed - Both marriage and mental asylums are institutions. You are required to commit to the first, and are forcibly committed to the second. You might be sane enough to identify you are insane and voluntarily check into a mental institution - I believe that percentage is significantly low. Either way you end up committed and in an institution. So what exactly is being implied here? And what of people who go insane after marriage? Can they plead sanity by noting they are already committed and in an institution?
  • Culture - We are a culture growing on nutrient substances, usually under controlled conditions. So are bacteria, a form of life that are orders of magnitude simpler than human beings, yet capable of causing unimaginable havoc to the human culture. The good bacteria typically dies young while the evil bacteria seems to live forever. Anyway, why is a word of such sweeping range and richness used in the bacterial context?
  • Organized - While this word holds its own when used individually, it takes on a different connotation when used in the context of 2 diametrically opposite (are they?) concepts - religion and crime. I wonder which one has resulted in higher casualties.

Then there's the incendiary 'race' which does not require a context at all (because it is the context) and is in a perennial contest with itself. People are a race and in a race, and oneupmanship is inextricably wired into the human gene.

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