A principle I currently believe is important, and which I know I’ve felt the same way about for at least ten years, because I distinctly remember saying this in a discussion in my tenth grade social studies class:
Words mean what people think they mean.
Symbols represent what people think they represent.
Learning about the origins of words, symbols, slogans can really expand your understanding of the context they came from, and I think it’s really important, but that doesn’t mean the original meaning is the Real meaning. The Real Meaning is what most people currently understand it to mean.
You can educate people about changes in meaning, and sometimes you can use a word in an uncommon or non-current sense if you explain that’s what you’re doing, but you can’t make language stop changing.
I was thinking about this in response to a post about person-first lanugage, and then I thought to myself, “Wait, I remember saying “symbols mean what people think they mean” in Mr. K’s social studies class…”