“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!” * quote from Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass"
Just reading an article in today's online Guardian Culture Section Ricky Gervais: "Bring on the Haters"
How like Humpty Dumpty's stance on semantics Gervais' own perception of the controversy over his use of certain offensive words is.
I'm not a "hater". I've probably cried with laughter at "The Office" as much as anyone. But I know the "in real life" derision and misperception fostered by his previous jokes about M.E. He joked at one stand-up show how he'd seen someone collecting for M.E.:
-M.E.? Not MS - not the crippling wasting disease. No, the thing that makes you say 'I don't wanna go to work today'.
There was a genuine M.E. sufferer in the room that day. She had to endure the humiliation of the whole room applauding and exploding with laughter at what was, whether Gervais would admit it or not, her expense and the expense of all M.E. sufferers who face the very ignorant attitudes being celebrated and reinforced in the said joke.
Then, recently, we have the outrage caused by the comedian's latest tweeting of an offensive word used to belittle people with Downs Syndrome. Gervais claims he has it on his own authority that the word has changed its meaning.
Many have challenged him. Yet even in this latest article, all but the brave mum of two disabled children with whom he deigned to discuss the matter, are now labelled as his "haters". Again he paints himself as the hero and victim of the sphere where he dreams he has rewritten the rules of meaning. A tiny world focused away from empathy, compassion and any sense of connection with the lives of others more vulnerable than Mr Gervais.
As his new series' title says: "Life's Too Short".
Life's too short to forget your humanity and the responsibilities that go hand in glove with the rights of free speech. Otherwise, you're just like Humpty Dumpty in his sneering superiority that a word means what you "choose it to mean - neither more nor less". Life's too short to forget that words belong also to the hearer once they are spoken or written. Every mystified, indignant Alice can challenge you then. You can go on believing your own propaganda of course. But it doesn't save you from falling off the wall.