Logical Gal delights in a new Fallacy

10 Feb

I never knew the Etymological Fallacy existed! But when I read about it yesterday, I saw exactly what it was and how helpful this category is going to be.

Take “sin” for example. The Greek word is ‘hamartia’.  Many Christians have glibly defined this Greek word as ‘to miss the mark’.  How tame can you get? What’s the big deal about lack of skill or lack of practice or ‘woops! – guess I missed’?

But I now know that relying on the original meaning of ‘hamartia’ commits the Etymological Fallacy.  So what if the term originally referred to shooting an arrow off course?  The way it was employed by Jesus and the apostles to teach about sin is what counts.  In that context, sin resulted in death, not the counsel to get more coaching!

So here is how the Etymological Fallacy works.  It doesn’t MATTER how a term was first or originally used at one time, what counts is how it is understood in the current context. A striking example of that is the adjective ‘gay’.  When I was growing up, the jingle for the Flintstones used it in its then-current meaning of merry or happy.  But to cling to that original definition today fails to communicate.  Contemporary usage guides the proper use of terms.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about Peter Boghossian’s disingenuous retooling of the term ‘faith’ to mean unwarranted belief or wishful thinking.  So, too, can we err in the opposite direction and stubbornly claim that we ought to be able to use a definition from times past that is no longer part of the common vernacular.

The whole point of any conversation or written essay is to communicate to others what is in our minds. We have to be careful in how we use a term.

Next Step: What words have YOU puzzled?  Maybe the first step is to consider other possible meanings.  You might be as tickled as I was to find a way to distinguish among the definitions, thus clearing up a concept that has puzzled you for years.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: