Presbyterians of the Past

Meanings of Words

I was just chatting with a three-year old and used the word understand, which resulted in the question, “What is understand?” To which I stupidly responded, “comprehend,” which elicited the question one would expect. Have you ever tried to define understand to a three-year old? It was a futile project which might have been helped by my having more experience with toddlers. I decided a few more months needed to pass before the meaning of understand would be understood.

Words are important and understanding their meanings for proper usage contributes to clear communication. God has communicated his perfect will through words in the Bible; Jesus is the Word become flesh; and Christians are instructed to be sanctified through the truth of the Word of God. Guidance for using words properly is found in a good dictionary. I know of one pastor who took an educational sabbatical that included among his studies reading a dictionary (which one was not mentioned). Without commenting on whether this was the best use of his study time, I imagine his abilities to preach clearly and write cogently were improved.

Just over two years ago I posted, “Recreation Among the Dictionaries,” which gives a brief history of English dictionaries both British and American. I am drawing attention to the post because the current manipulation of words by some media, academia, and theological systems denies their historical-theological contexts and substitutes secularized, anti-Nomian meanings. The most often used examples of such redefined words I hear are culture, marriage, progressive, diverse, and their associated terms.

The header shows the title page of an edition of Johnson’s dictionary published in 1813 in Philadelphia by Johnson and Warner.

Please visit the Presbyterians of the Past homepage and see the topical selections included in the recently updated “Notes & News” collection. Older entries no longer available on the homepage can be accessed in the “Notes & News Archive.”

Barry Waugh

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