Words are the currency of ideas. They are the medium through which humans exchange ideas. Money is the medium through which value is communicated. Money and words have very similar roles to play in human intercourse. It’s little wonder, as the supply of words has exploded over the last few years, with the ability to transmit ideas across the globe becoming almost cost-free (such as this blog accomplishes), that the value of words has suffered the same fate as that of money, which has seen its own supply explosion. Accordingly, both have suffered tremendous devaluations relative to the things they are trying to communicate.
Take the word derecho. It is a Spanish word meaning straight or direct. According to Accuweather, it was first used in 1888 by an Iowa physics professor, Gustavus Hinrichs, to describe a line of powerful thunderstorms with exceptionally strong straight-line winds. It was employed recently to describe the storms that raced across the Midwest and Northeast on June 29, 2012. It wasn’t just a line of severe thunderstorms that knocked down all those trees in Washington, D.C., prompting a local opinion writer for the Washington Post to famously ask in the headline of his story attributing the heat and the storms to global warming, Is this summer hot enough for you? The storms were a derecho. But a rose by any other name is still a rose. Powerful wind and rain and lightning storms are powerful wind and rain and lightning storms, no matter what you call them. Just because a new term is adopted to describe an old phenomenon does not mean the old phenomenon is now new, except perhaps in the minds of a credulous public who craves meaning and purpose so desperately that they’ll grasp at any illusion which will make their suffering feel exceptional, and thereby more meaningful.
Accuweather admits that it now uses derecho because its old nomenclature, “severe thunderstorm” lacks punch, what with the devaluation of the language; from the same article referenced above:
Why We Used the Term “Derecho”
There was great concern on behalf of AccuWeather.com that the system could go unnoticed until it had already slammed many communities.
Today’s instantaneous communication of weather extremes by way of social media commands the use of attention-grabbing terms.
There is a risk of overuse of terms like derecho or blizzard. However, the use of strong or severe thunderstorms is used so commonly today that we felt many may people would disregard a potentially life-threatening event if we stopped there.
Not all derechos, like other storms, are created equal.
Indeed, Tuesday’s system was not as far-reaching nor as intense as the June 29 event. However, it produced dozens of wind-damage incidents, covering seven states in about 10 hours. At times it was moving faster than the June 29 event.
So there. Words are so cheap that a line of severe thunderstorms now costs a derecho. Sort of like a quarter-pounder with cheese meal at McDonald’s now costs $6. The quarter-pounder with cheese meal still takes roughly the same hour of after-tax minimum-wage labor to purchase as when it cost $3.50. The only thing has changed is the currency.
Words and currency, suffering from vast expansions in supply, get cheaper each day. The ideas they describe or the values they transmit remain the same.
It would do well for a person’s education if they learned that money never buys goods and services, only goods and services buy goods and services, and that words don’t constitute ideas, but only convey them. Then they’d immediately know that a quarter pounder is no more valuable a thing now than when it cost half as much, and that words used to convey ideas must always be discounted (according to over usage, the speaker’s bias, etc.) to properly understand the idea being transmitted. Not every problem is a crisis. Not every severe thunderstorm is a derecho. Not every social movement constitutes a war. Not every championship team is the greatest of all time.
The cheapening of words and money reflects the gathering infantilism of society. Only children should need to think everything is the best or worst ever, or the most or least expensive. Adults, who should have a more properly reasoned perspective, ought to know better.
Derecho sounds a lot like tornado. I wonder, when will they invent a word or phrase beyond “F4/5 tornadoes” (the rating scale itself being a matter of cheapening words) to describe the massive cyclones that regularly wreak havoc around my neck of the woods? “Tornado” just doesn’t seem to pack the punch it once did. I’m confident the local meteorologists are will have a new term worked out by the time the next batch of killers rolls through, just as I’m sure the monetary authorities will keep finding new ways to make the same things seem more valuable.