The meaning of a word or phrase is how it’s used, and its use changes with the alacrity of the weather. Kleenex used to be a brand name, now it’s synonymous with facial tissue. Likewise to vacuum became to hoover.
Most words in English are compounds, and sometimes, e.g. skyscraper, you can decipher its meaning from its atomics. But as often as not you can’t. Decolonisation does not mean reversing the effects of colonisation.
In fact this failure of reducibility can apply to whole sentences. Black lives matter, Asian lives matter, Hispanic lives matter, Jewish lives matter, and so on. So you’d think it would follow that all lives matter. But by all lives matter is meant that black lives don’t. Go figure!
But you can’t figure, because as often as not words, phrases, whole sentences, whole dissertations, are not reducible to their atomic constituents. Hate crimes have nothing to do with hate. “Is she attractive?” “She has a wonderful personality.” An interrogative is now an assertive, e.g. asking a question about the Holocaust is Holocaust denial, and of course Holocaust denial is anti-semitism. An essay denying indigenous exceptionalism is racist.
As I say, you can’t go figure, because what one says, no matter how precisely he’s said it, need bear no relation to what he’s taken to have said. And so the smart money goes to saying nothing at all; or would were it not that it’s now been decided that “Silence is violence!”
There’s something we’re each required to say – for example that we do indeed need to decolonize the classroom – but none of us has the faintest idea what we’ve just said. And thus have the new Inquisitors completed the work God didn’t quite finish at Babel.
A small number of us – a very small number – are doing what we can to preserve the meaningfulness of our words. And to hold others to the meaningfulness of theirs. We’re told this is a culture war, and that we’re on the wrong side of history. The Moriscos and Marranos had the good sense to get on the right side. The only alternatives were escape or the stake. Times have changed. I’m not going anywhere. Torquemada take heed: Your robes are as flammable as mine.