Historical Illiteracy Insults My Intelligence

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Language evolves.  For instance, the word “conversation” used to have a sexual connotation while “intercourse” meant something more like conversation.  Let’s be glad the censors aren’t industrious enough to try banning older books with “intercourse” in them.

Unfortunately, the public doesn’t understand how language changes.  Meanings sometimes shift over time; occasionally, such developments happen suddenly.

Soon after September 11, 2001, Americans came to associate the term “ground zero” with the World Trade Center site.  If you say ground zero to almost any American, that’s all that will come to their mind.  The earlier definition was erased: the spot where an atomic or nuclear weapon hits the earth.

But the greatest travesty emerges when the public, in effect, censors old works because they use the term “ground zero” in an “inappropriate” way.  Entire works of art and other cultural products become nothing more than incomprehensible anachronisms as a couple of historical chapters are forgotten.  I’m sure quite a few Japanese (should) take issue with this revision of history and public memory, as should anyone who ever had to “duck and cover.”

But I’m not here to write about Hiroshima and Nagasaki…

I bring you a song from 1986 that was commonly played at Christmastime until “ground zero” took on its new meaning.  Now we don’t hear the song as much.  You’d think that people could tell from the context that the song isn’t about the 9-11 attack site.

On the other hand, I once knew a guy who thought the song “Jesus He Knows Me” by Genesis was a great religious tune because it featured the word “Jesus.”  So one probably can’t realistically expect people to pay attention to anything more than a keyword or two.

Anyway, the video is below.  Since stores will be putting up their Christmas decorations in a few weeks, let’s have some Cold War holiday fun.

4 thoughts on “Historical Illiteracy Insults My Intelligence

  1. And we can even expand on your argument and say that this particular meaning of ‘ground zero’ only exists in the US. In the rest of the English-speaking world it still refers to the point of detonation of an atomic bomb (as well as of any bomb and it may even to refer to the point where some significant event originated).

    My favourite word that changed in meaning is ‘gay’. As an English teacher I regularly had to explain if the word came up in poetry that it was not referring to homosexual people. There was especially a large amount of amusement every time ‘gay’ came up in a poem with a religious theme.

  2. A thought-provoking post.

    I’ve never heard that song before, though I know plenty of others by Weird Al. I love his work but this is really quite chilling.

    Coincidentally, British government documents have just been released from 1983, including a speech written for the Queen in the event of a nuclear war: http://news.sky.com/story/1122958/queens-sombre-nuclear-war-speech-revealed

    Funny to think how real the threat was back then; and how glad we are that it has passed. I hope my own children will look back in thirty years and say the same thing about the terrorist threats we presently face.

    • Hopefully it has passed. There are still lots of idiots in the world who would love to get their hands on just one usable nuclear weapon.

      (And I love how speeches are written for “leaders” without them having any input.)

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