A little Latin is a dangerous thing. Once you start realizing where words come from, you’ll never be able to utter a sentence again without thinking about what these words ‘really’ mean. I, who have acquired more than a little Latin, am a linguistic terrorist. I blow up entire sentences, leaving verbal debris.
More often, though, I just run around in circles, chasing an elusive insight through the tangled underbrush of meaning.
For example, I started this morning with the word ‘identity.’ We talk about identities being stolen, when what we really mean is numbers have been stolen, particularly that unique identifying string of digits we call a Social Security number. Society is much more secure now that we all have numbers.
Except when they are stolen. If I lose my identity, I am no longer unique. Possessing this, another person can steal other bits of my life — credit card numbers, checking account numbers, passwords.
But ‘uniqueness’ can’t actually be stolen, since what truly makes us all unique is DNA. Unless you’ve been cloned, no one has DNA identical to yours.
Linguistic point of order: No one is more unique than anyone else, or any less unique. That’s because unique is an absolute. You either are, or you’re not.
If we’re all unique, then none of us is really special. More