What seems to be required for some people to make a point is to redefine a word to mean something it does not. Sometimes, the person making the argument will not necessarily change the meaning but use a broader meaning which, in essence, makes the definition vague at best and useless at worst. This seems to be a very common theme that occurs regularly in every major religion and political ideology that exists today. Every irrational argument I have come across requires the redefinition of words to attempt to make any sense at all. I’ve dubbed this game of redefining words as “word salad.” You get to pick and choose which words you redefine to suite the narrative you’re attempting to push.
One of the most favorite games for those that want to hold what they want dear is to change the meaning of words to suite their narrative. The following is a list of words that I’ve seen from everyone who holds an ideological position dear. They aren’t in any particular order. However, what you will find is an alarming trend which seems to be pervasive throughout the entire set.
Words = Violence
Feminism = Equality
Faith = evidence
Beliefs = Truth
Holy books = Historical documents
Racism = privilege + power
Fascism = opposing views
Hate Speech = Offensive language
Diversity = everyone but white
Inclusion = More marginalized voices and less SWM.
Gender = Socially constructed
What can you tell from the short list of words? Do you see a pattern emerge? If you don’t, allow me to lay it out for you in a hopefully comprehensive way. One pattern you may see is that some of these words are given a meaning that is almost opposite to what the word actually means. For example, Faith is the belief in something that has no evidence. Yet faith is used as evidence in a belief. Another example is that words are violence. Yet words are sounds with no physical bodies to enact violence. Furthermore, words are completely meaningless unless there’s a person to hear them and understand them.
There is another pattern that comes through with the game of word salad. As mentioned in my podcast, word salad is a fallacy called redefinition. With redefinition, you change the meaning of a word to something vague as to allow the word to cover a broader topic. You can also tweak a definition to mean something similar while dismantling the word to lose its meaning in favor of the view. I cover both of these in my podcast but I’d like to show you a way to get past word salad.
Redefinition fallacies have an easy weakness to exploit. That weakness relies on the individual making the fallacious word salad returning the word to its original definition. This happens every time when you’re discussing something with someone that redefines words. There is no exception that I have seen yet where a word salad tosser doesn’t return to the original definition. So here’s how you trick them up using the same realm of thought they use to make this issue a reality in the first place. You use a philosophical approach to epistemology at a rudimentary level to deconstruct the argument by making them do all the work.
Keep them discussing the subject where they redefine the word and you’ll see them slip. Bring it up and point them back to how they defined the word. See how it compares to the argument. Then keep pointing out why they change back and circle back again. This tactic seems like circular reasoning but what you’re doing is attempting to tackle the cognitive dissonance at the root of their ideology. One key point on this is never give them the definition. Always ask the questions and avoid giving answers if at all possible. What happens if you give them a definition is they turn it into an argument. This has little effect if they are hardened in their beliefs.