Linguistic Analysis No. 1 — Roman Catholicism

This is the first of a many part series I plan to do. Occasionally — as is my habit… Basically, my goal is to analyze some word or phrase from a linguistic point of view. I think my passion/patience blog was a forerunner to this concept. Now, I shall begin:

Someone recently told me, “Roman Catholics are hypocrites because they believe homosexuality is a sin, but the Romans were totally gay.”

Oh yes, I did indeed smirk. Even a glance at the assumed logic of the statement makes it laughable. Jesus was not a Roman. Jesus was a Jew — get over it! Such an issue is pure semantics, yet is surprising. Such confusion, thinking the common word “Roman Catholic” without thinking of Christ, is terrifying in my mind. It really emphasizes this idea that it is not religions that are out of touch with young people, but young people who are out of touch with religion. I might be tempted to ramble about the rise of “spirituality,” but that may be for a different post. Still, is it not odd that we live in a world where people increasingly want to be spiritual; increasingly want to be spirits, not bodies?

Anyways, more amusing results can be discovered if we approach this from a different lens. I consulted my handy OED. “Roman Catholic” is not a terribly old word in English! It was first used in the early seventeenth century — which means it only comes into use after the Protestant Reformation. In fact, the first quotation, from Sandys’ Europae Speculum (1605), mentions the recently emerged contrast, “Some Roman-Catholiques will not say grace.. when a Protestant is present.” Yes, even words about religion have a historical precedent.

My point here must reduce to this: English is a remarkable language in its ability to absorb other languages and new words, yet this quality demands of us to know not just what these words mean, but where they come from as well. If not, our logic (*logos — word: therefore, semantics) falls into stupidity even excluding political and theological interpretations.

*I believe the root of logic can be brought further back, to legein — draw out. Heidegger certainly uses this sense of the word, but I think my point still stands. Especially as semantics do draw out, quite exactly or inexactly as the speaker allows.

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