Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Offensive Words

The most famous nemesis of all time was Professor Moriarty. Star Trek had a Nemesis and so does over 62,000 books at Amazon.com. But do we really know what a nemesis is? I like words. More accurately is like to find the etymology of words: where did they come from? We most commonly use nemesis to mean “archenemy” or something like that but is that what it really means?

Nemesis is a Greek god. The god of divine retribution for the hubris of humanity, she is the implacable executrix of justice. In other words she will whoop on you if you think of yourself more highly than you aught. She is justice without mercy.

So, literally, when you claim to have a nemesis you are saying that you are being justly punished by someone. Not quite what you intended, I’m sure. Unfortunately we don’t think we EVER need divine retribution because we are just not bad enough to deserve it so whenever we feel the sword of Nemesis we consider that person our enemy, even ARCHenemy. I felt the sword of Nemesis in the form of my father’s belt growing up when I was unruly and disobedient. I also felt the sword of Nemesis in my mother’s tears over other childhood wrongs. They were not my enemies; they were loving parents who understood the sword of Nemesis was necessary to raise well-adjusted kids.

Another word that we continue to misuse or adapt to our meaning is the word “holocaust”. I have been studying Jewish Theology and have found that holocaust is an offensive word to most Jews. First, because it is a Greek word, not Hebrew, which means “whole” (holos) “burnt” (kaustos) or completely burnt. It was a Greek word used for sacrificing to pagan gods. It was first used in reference to Jews in 1190 when the fervor of the Crusades caused the mobs to turn against the Jews and massacre tens of thousands of them. Second, because it insinuates a “divine retribution” or a NEEDED sacrifice because of the sins of the people involved. You can see why an informed Jew would rather you call it the Shoah (Hebrew for calamity) rather than the Holocaust. Yet we believe it just means terrible tragedy.

I continue to learn how offensive I am by the words I choose to use. I appreciate more and more the patience and goodwill of those I offend. If we would all just keep learning, keep forgiving, and keep up the patience then we would have no Nemesis and prevent any Holocaust.

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