Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Words Are Funny: Stereotype


Words are interesting things, aren't they? Whether spoken or written, they carry a weight that can't be measured, yet is capable of knocking back a full grown man. Relationships have began and ended, friends have been fought and found, and families have been driven apart or closer together, all by the use of words. Words can hurt; words can heal – the stroke of the staff conveys the state of the mind behind the hands that hold it. If nothing else, words are funny... words like “stereotype”.

A thought compelled me recently to look up “stereotype” in Webster's dictionary. It seemed... unintuitive, that the words “stereo” and “type” would be combined to mean what stereotype is commonly used to indicate: a belief or statement concerning a shared trait or behavior among a specific grouping of people that relies on unreliable presumption, regardless of whether the context be positive or negative. Ok... now what does that have to do with a type of stereo?

Before looking up stereotype, I searched for the meaning of “stereo”. This is the primary entry:

[from the Greek “stereos”, meaning solid] solid: solid body – having or dealing with three dimensions of space

And hear I'd always associated the word stereo with sound! That was my assumption though; apparently, stereo primarily denotes solid forms under this definition. (note: this is not to say it can't connote sound as well; all things that move - or can be moved - generate vibrations, which are essentially, waves. “Wave” implies sound, whether or not they are detected by ears) 

Now here's the primary entry for “stereotype”:

(verb, 1804) 1: to make a stereotype from 2a: to repeat without variation : make hackneyed 2b: to develop a mental stereotype about

Huh. Anyone else find it strange when a word is included in the first sentence used to define it? Wait – it gets stranger:

(noun, 1817) 1: a plate cast from a printing surface 2: something conforming to a fixed or general pattern

Does it seem odd to anyone else that “stereotype” was used as a verb, well before it was a noun? Were people eating banana splits before they had bananas? This is strictly going by what Webster's book says, of course. One might argue that I'm taking the text's information too literally. If that's the case, why even write it as such and pass it as fact?

Who was this Webster anyway? Are his definitions any more true or valid than yours, or mine? Are we not all equal in our ability to access and use the mind? Let's not be afraid to define our own words – and redefine, whenever the need should arise.

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