The problem with language and crosswords

I am an avid crossword solver. In spite of the fact that I finish the crossword almost every day, it is more due to the fact that I came to understand what they mean with the clues than because I agree with their definitions. I understand that language is an almost living thing that changes meanings over time. If I had asked my grandfather "did you try clicking on it?", the most I would have gotten would have been a blank stare. Words change meanings not only to incorporate new concepts, but also to adapt to the way new generations look at the world; and even to regional cultures.

When I was freshly arrived in America, I was in a study group with classmates at HUC, and I needed to erase something, so I ask for the eraser. I used, however, the word used in England, which was the one I learned back in Buenos Aires... Suffice to say that some of my classmates were female and were rather horrified at my request.

One particular crossword clue struck me in recent days... The clue was "Memorized"; the answer? "Learned". This equivalence really bothered me. As an educator (my first degree), the idea that memorizing is learning is definitely impossible for me to accept.  I'm also taken somehow aback by the large percentage of clues that refer to popular trivia. Maybe one of the issues we need to reconsider is that learning is really to incorporate new concepts or data into our understanding of the world around us; it is getting to understand a concept and integrate it with our prior knowledge. And knowledge is more than trivia - knowledge is a tool that helps us understand the world; whether it is understanding little things like why does the water boil to the large issues like whta it takes to set up a colony in Mars.

But our knowledge is also filtered by our culture; both - the culture we inherited and ther culture we live in. My Jewish heritage definitely conditions the way I look at the world and informs my understanding of it based on the values I received from my ancestors.

But as somebody who had lived, so far, in many parts of the world, I also know that what we live on a daily basis also conditions the way we look at the world and our understaning of it. Before coming to the US, my understanding of what Democracy is was limited, but I was convinced I understood the concept. After living for all these years in the US, my understanding has changed and I look back with wonder that I ever believed what I did back then.

Once we accept the shifting meaning of words, we can also come to accept that institutions and organizations do not remain the same either. They need to change with the times; adapt to the way people look at them and to what people expect of them - this is true for the Office of the President of the United States and for a small organization in the CSRA. It is our ability to look anew at the old that allows us to move forward and progress. May we never lose that ability!



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