People Don’t Understand the Point of Adjectives

It just dawned on me that many “misunderstandings” and debates arise from the use of adjectives: does the adjective make the noun more specific or emphasize a quality?
When a _Wheel of Fortune_ contestant says, “I am married to my beautiful wife [X]” [I sometimes wonder if they don’t have a kind of MadLibs script: pick a living situation, pick a family member, pick an adjective, pick a name.], does he mean, “my wife is exceptionally beautiful,” “All wives are by definition beautiful and I’m just emphasizing it,” or “she’s my ‘beautiful’ wife, as opposed to my ugly one”?
The thought dawned on me just now reading the current issue of the _Carmel Clarion_, in which an article refers to the famous quotation from St. Teresa of Avila, “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, Lord deliver us!” If she were alive today, the mainstream media promote the headline: “Mother Teresa of Jesus, foundress of the Carmelite Reform, calls Devotions ‘Silly’ and Saints ‘Sour-faced.'” Then many sour-faced would-be saints would start arguing in comboxes about what she “really meant,” or whether she’s a heretic, or a modernist, or whatever, when it’s perfectly obvious that she means “saints who are sour-faced,” not all saints, and that she means “devotions that are silly,” not all devotions (and, further, that she means devotions that are practiced in a silly manner).

It doesn’t just happen in the “new media.” T. S. Eliot has been forever labelled an anti-Semite because of one sentence in a book (which he subsequently refused to have republished) that referred negatively to “free-thinking Jews.” The media jumped on it and said that Eliot wanted Jews to be slaves, when he was clearly, within the sentence, within the paragraph, and in his responses to the media, talking about “liberal” or “progressive” Jews–in the context, he was speaking favorably of Judaism and criticizing Jews who don’t appreciate or follow their faith, comparing them to Christians who do the same thing.

The basis of the sedevacantist movement is the claim that Vatican II teachings on religious liberty contradict the condemnations of “religious liberty” by Pius IX and Leo XIII, yet each of then condemned “a kind of religious liberty that . . . ” then used very specific terms to describe what we call “wall of separation” or “freedom *from* religion.” You can read them as saying, “all religious liberty is like this,” or “some approaches to religious liberty are like this and we condemn those.” That’s what hermeneutics is about. The former is the basis for the “hermeneutic of rupture” (on both the “Right” and “Left”); the latter is the basis of “the hermeneutic of continuity.”

“I didn’t say you stole my money.”

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One response to “People Don’t Understand the Point of Adjectives

  1. Pingback: The Pope and the Clown Nose: “God save us from Sour-Faced Saints” | The Lewis Crusade

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