Hominy & Hash
INTEGRITY: WEBSTER'S HAS A WORD FOR IT
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA. -- In 2003 the most often looked-up word in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary was "democracy." Well, I can see that.
Some might want to know what that really means. We already know we are a democracy, thus, we have a democratic form of government. We know what that means because we know what we have. We know we can say "throw the bum out," referring to the President, and there will be no repercussions. We have freedom here. We don't need to really define the term. We know our rights because we live in a democracy.
But in Iraq, where we are helping them to establish a democracy, we need to know exactly what it is we're doing for them - or, perhaps it is to them.
In 2003, we decided we had better look it up just to be sure. And, by the millions, we looked it up. Ah, in the online thesaurus, compliments of Microsoft, it defines democracy thusly: democratic system, democratic state, democratic organization. Having learned nothing, if you then ask for a "look up" the answer says "merely social equality."
Obviously, this tells us nothing. However, going to Merriam-Webster's Website (www.merriamwebster.com) we find an extensive definition, beginning with (a) government by the people; especially: rule of the majority. That definition will put the inquiring mind close enough on track to know what they're talking about. The rest of the extensive definition says the same thing prefaced by "in other words," but you get the drift.
In 2004, the most frequently looked-up word was "blog." Without ever defining the word, it was bandied about in many forms: there were blogs, bloggers, blogging. Finally, through word of mouth we learned the term and started using it long before Webster got it into print. Blog is short for web log - an online journal. I just went to check out the definition in the online dictionary and was told there is no such word. The thesaurus says the same thing. Yet in 2004, more people checked it out than any other word.
Defining "blog" as a journal, online or not, is incorrect. The very nature of a journal has always been a private communication with oneself … more like the Diary a teenager carries around. Online blogs are for the most part, "extra, extra, read all about it," and you're right there inside the head of some men and women opining on whatever subject their little minds choose. They're a one-man shop, no editors, no advisors, no restrictions - but usually having a wonderful way with words.
Haven't we all met people who speak endlessly just to hear themselves talk? Well, bloggers do the same thing in writing. To the people you might say, "enough already;" however, with bloggers you can hit delete, or follow the leaders into their camp.
This brings me to 2005. And, I'm surprised the most looked up word in 2005 is "integrity." Only one definition was offered: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values. A synonym in bold print added Incorruptibility." And a trip to Webster's to define that reveals it to be: blamelessness.
You don't need a lot of words to define integrity. It's like charm; you either have it or you don't, and you know it when you see it. It's a good sign that people are looking up that word. This year integrity was spoken of often when looking for Supreme Court Justices. He or she was a person of integrity. Or someone might not have the integrity to sit on the high court.
In its simplest terms, integrity is doing the right thing. And, if we do the right thing then we're made of the right stuff. We would have character.
I don't believe there ever comes a time when we don't know the right thing versus the wrong thing in any given situation. If we do the right thing we're persons of integrity; if we do the wrong thing, it suggests corruptibility. Everyone looking up that definition was someone wanting to know what it takes - and that's a good sign.
Growing up, my mother never gave me grammar lessons or vocabulary quizzes but she would use words occasionally - in the correct way - and I either understood them, or I didn't. If I told her I didn't know what she was talking about she would simply shrug. I knew immediately I'd better look it up or I'd never be able to communicate with, say, William F Buckley, Jr.
The word my mother spoke was "indefatigable." When I found it simply meant untiring, I asked "Why didn't you say so?" Again she shrugged, smiling this time.
I'm not sure which word will be looked up the most in 2006 but I look forward to knowing. I'm sure it's not going to be "sesquipedalian," but I just had to look up that one. I had referred to William F. Buckley, Jr. and wanted to verify his middle initial. The description added "William F. Buckley, Jr. was known for his sesquipedalian vocabulary." After trying to discern the etymology of the word, I gave up and went to Webster's for the answer. The word is from the Latin, meaning a foot and a half long.
That's funny. With all his accomplishments, author, founder and longtime editor National Review Magazine, his most prominent claim to fame is that he uses words a foot and a half long. Further, it's amusing that only he himself could have written that four-sentence personal biography and known exactly what he was talking about.
As for me, I looked up a word, and I now know what it means. But don't ask me to use it in a sentence.
Visit Constance Daley at www.skylinetoshoreline.com.