Far and away, the top contender for this year’s “Word Wiped Clean Of Any Denotative Meaning Through Indiscriminate Pejorative Use”* is bully. Before you use the term to bring down the opprobrium of all right-thinking people on the deserving target, let’s cast our minds back to how the word was used when we were children.
- Had no institutional authority — in fact, he avoided institutional authority.
- Picked victims who were significantly weaker than he was.
- Used superior strength, and the threat thereof, to enforce his demands.
So. That means that one’s opponent in a political contest is not a bully. Someone disagreeing with someone else in public is not a bully. I, by criticizing self-published book covers at lousybookcovers.com, am not a bully. (A jerk? Sure, I very well may be. But a bully? No.) Words have meanings, people, not just uses.
*Last year’s was “racist.” Frontrunner for next year is “privilege.”