Words and Meaning

I’ve been going through the Trivium between other readings as a part of my reading list project. The book start with a discussion of grammar, in which this is asserted early on:

A word is a symbol. Its matter is the sensible sign; its form is the meaning imposed upon it by convention. (p.15)

The use of a word as a symbol is asserted throughout the grammar section, and sometimes it is referenced how the symbol may not represent the same meaning to differing people. The symbol may have ambiguous meaning due to different phantasms (mental images) that people have of the word.

Being more cold-bloodedly rational-minded, I’ve generally defaulted to a view of words where having a fixed, objective meaning, but what if words don’t have an objective meaning? What if words have subjective emotional meanings beyond the “objective” definition of the word itself the word itself?

If a word is simply a symbol of meaning rather than an objective definition, it can symbolize different things to different people.

For example, in this conversation I wrote of earlier, one of the things that set someone off was saying, “rape in marriage doesn’t exist”. By this I meant that Christian marriage is a consentual agreement in which the free giving of sex by both parties plays an integral part, so, from a Christian point of view sex had already been consented to simply by being married. Just like continuous mortgage payments have already been consented to simply by signing a mortgage contract.

What I heard back was a strong emotional outburst about violence and sexual torture within marriage. This derailed the conversation. My attempts to reason about the definitions of Christian marriage, consent, violence, and rape proved fruitless.

In retrospect, the word rape is emotionally loaded for some people. Had I used the phrase “non-consensual sex”, there probably would not have been a similar, unintended emotional meaning attached to the phrase, while still having the same objective meaning. The discussion may have proved more fruitful.

Another one that came up in the discussion thread for that post is the use of “men” and “women” instead of “males” and “females”. I never really thought there was much of a difference between the two, other than the latter being broader and including children as well as adults. But it seems to many, that the former are more “humanizing”.

I could probably improve my abilities to relating with people, especially women, by simply keeping this in mind.

The symbols that are words may have emotional meanings attached to them by beyond what I may intend for them to have.


Private Man has commented on something similar. He recommends referring to “traditional gender roles” as “natural gender roles” from now on.

I think it’s a good idea and plan to implement it in the future. While there is a slight difference in meaning, in most contexts I, and most reactionaries, would use the phrase “traditional gender roles”, “natural gender roles” would be equivalent.

Haley had a similar suggestion, that we rebrand submission as deference. I’d have to agree with ar10308’s and Deep Strength’s responses:

Scripture says “Submit” as a command. “Defer” implies that you have the choice to do so or not, yet still be aligned with God’s command regardless if you do not follow it or not. “Defer” still places the wife at the head of the marriage as opposed to the husband.

ar10308 has it correct. Deference, at least in colloquial term of the word, means you tend to “know better” or “don’t want to make the decision” and are just letting the other person have their preference. Sounds like feminism to me.

Although the definition of defer has submit within it, it is not a synonym of submission. Submission to leadership is different from this in the Biblical perspective.

The dictionary definition of defer is:

To submit to the opinion, wishes, or decision of another through respect or in recognition of his or her authority, knowledge, or judgment.

to yield (to) or comply (with) the wishes or judgments of another

to yield respectfully in judgment or opinion.

While submit’s is:

To yield or surrender (oneself) to the will or authority of another.

5. to yield oneself to the power or authority of another.
6. to allow oneself to be subjected to some kind of treatment.
7. to defer to another’s judgment, opinion, decision, etc.

This is a case where the dictionary definitions are almost the same, but the real-life connotations of the symbols are too different to be used.

If this took off, I can see it being used as a cover for sin, sort of like the media portrayals of girls who are  “virgins” because they were anally rather than vaginally penetrated.

Would it be good Christian theology for Christians to defer to Christ?

Defer yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Kind of has a different ring to it, don’t it?

9 responses to “Words and Meaning

  • Will S.

    Agree completely; ‘defer’ is not appropriate, because it doesn’t have the same meaning.

    A while back, a couple times in fact, here and here, we got into similar discussions over comparing the terms ‘submission’ versus ‘obedience’.

  • alcestiseshtemoa

    Instead of “gender roles”, it’s better to use “sex roles”. Gender roles goes back to the idea that it’s just a social construct and that it doesn’t have much connection to either the individual as a person or the sex as a group (on average and in general), but it does (on both accounts). It’s almost like an outburst of Gnosticism.

    Sex is a multifaceted aspect, with the mind and the soul, but another aspect is the physical (and that shouldn’t be thrown away) and all of them complete each other or work together as a whole.

    Feminists and their allies have been trying to pin-push things like “sex roles” into a hedonistic fake costume kinky (eww) party, but I don’t believe that it was worked (yet).

  • alcestiseshtemoa

    *I may be wrong about this but have to point this out*

    In Latin (I speak Portuguese, which is a Latin derived language), it’s masculine sex or feminine sex (masculine is the same as male and feminine is the same as female, they are used interchangeable). I think the same phenomenon occurs in French (“sexe masculin” and “sexe féminin” I think).

    The word sex has a double simultaneous meaning (connecting the social and the physical). It can mean the person’s gender (though “gender” as a word doesn’t exist in a proper matter) or it can mean the sexual act (the one-flesh union).

  • alcestiseshtemoa

    Traditional sex roles and natural sex roles can be good equivalents. Sex is much better than gender.

  • alcestiseshtemoa

    If this took off, I can see it being used as a cover for sin, sort of like the media portrayals of girls who are “virgins” because they were anally rather than vaginally penetrated.

    Thank you Churchianity. Only in America and the Anglosphere…

  • Deep Strength

    Having thought about it a bit more “submission” tends to imply that whatever decision is come to that the wife will abide by it.

    Whereas defer tends to imply that the decision needs to be made to have “deference” every time a certain situation comes up.

    Basically, submission is for the present and future, whereas defer tends to only apply to the here and now.

    And we know that a marriage is to be for the present and the future/forever.

    And yes, the definitions are clearly similar but imply different things.

    Defer yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

    That illustrates it quite clearly. Nice work.

  • Jehu

    Where I work we have an expression—-‘Disagree and Commit’.
    Which is to say, we can, and are encouraged to, disagree with a proposal or program and suggest amendments etc. But once the appropriate decider makes the decision, we are expected to commit to it. No foot dragging, no trying to passive-aggressively undermine the execution—instead, Commit.
    This is the kind of submission that God expects of a married woman. Her husband is the decider, normally in a consultative decision-making model.

  • Defining Feminism Part 4 – Defining Her God | The Society of Phineas

    […] twisting of words into different meanings is evident. The feminists are correct in that words have meaning and words have power. As Haley […]

  • adiaforon

    “Word as symbol” reminds me of Aquinas. Though not incorrect, I still have my reservations about this view of language, especially since the rhetoricians were right on the money since ancient times. We see this with spin all the time in our own age.

    Something to read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sense_and_reference.

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