CHARLESTON, W.VA.--Science fiction has often been an accurate forecaster of the future.
In Kurt Vonnegut's satirical short story, "Harrison Bergeron" everyone is equal, "every which way," thanks to an amendment to the Constitution that ensures equality for all.
If someone is intelligent, the Handicapper General's agents make the intellect wear deafening earphones, thus rendering the person unable to concentrate or think clearly. If someone is good looking, the individual must wear a mask, and if the citizen is stronger or faster than anyone else, the person must wear weights.
Weights come in many packages.
Language has weight. Used skillfully, it can persuade citizens to believe false statements. Artfully written and brilliantly delivered speeches help politicians strive toward their goals, even when the goals are unachievable.
There's now a movement toward "social equality," a phrase that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy because we want everyone to be successful and to be equal.
Egalitarianism, however, is an impossible goal. Noting the obsession to make everyone equal, we wonder how far our elected officials will go to work for an unattainable end.
We are not all "created equal." Thomas Wolfe (not Tom Wolfe) said that's the first lie we must deal with.
He was right. Some are born into wealthy families; others are born into poverty. Some are born with an innate ability to grasp complex concepts; others are not. The weight of language bears down on us, and we follow the leader by repeating ridiculous euphemisms that make us feel good, but do not alter reality.
As a result, many precise words have been swept under the rug of rhetoric and replaced with vague, less harsh words, lest we hurt someone's feelings. Because of impractical replacements, communications have become blurred. For instance, the words "problem" and "offensive" have been banished from our lexicon.
We have no problems because we've replaced "problems" with "issues." Recently, Barbara Bush had "a respiratory issue." Actually, she had a respiratory problem. Later, we were told she had pneumonia, and that's a problem - not an issue.
Problems call for solutions, but we have no solutions. We can debate issues on and on with nary a solution in sight.
Observe our politicians in Washington. When the word "problem" is used, it is at once negated.
"Thank you for the gift, Sweetie."
"No problem," says Sweetie.
See what I mean? There's no problem. "You're welcome" has been replaced with "No problem."
Researching words online can be misleading. Beware of Internet's instant experts.
If you Google "issue versus problem," you'll find contradictory information. Here are the first definitions I found, which are correct insofar as they are explained: "The word 'problem' is used with an intention to solve it. An issue is used in the sense of controversy."
Here is an incorrect definition: "When you have an issue, you can come up with the solution. A problem. . .is not something you can solve without forethought, and even a certain amount of guesswork."
For dependability, choose either a reliable online dictionary or a hard-copy dictionary. My Webster's gives four or five definitions for "issue," and not one mentions "problem." An issue can be publicly debated or we can read an issue of a magazine or we can watch something issue from a storage tank, but a problem needs a solution.
"Problem" and "issue" are not synonymous.
Add "offensive" to the list of words we're reluctant to use. "Inappropriate" has replaced "offensive" and has moved into our vocabulary with a vengeance.
What's more, Americans who make inappropriate comments will never be forgiven, despite tearful apologies.
One man on television said, "We just don't tolerate that kind of thing anymore." He's right. We're quickly becoming an intolerant nation-intolerant of large portions of food and intolerant of precise words if they're too harsh for a populace that's being subtly conditioned to be hypersensitive to language expressing reality.
I said to a friend who has a great sense of humor, "There's a difference between "dissatisfied" and "unsatisfied."
Smiling, she said, "But we, the people, don't care." She might be right, but the way we use language tells a great deal about who we are. We should care.
Contact writer Dolly Withrow at ritew...@aol.com.