Flavoring our Words: Cops and God


Words are funny things: they have multiple uses, fluxes in nuances and many emotional flavors depending on the user.  We often ignore these flavors for the convenience of conversation where we pretend that words have stable meanings and others are tasting the same thing we are when they use the words. Yet the truth is that the “meaning” of a word can vary from user to user depending on the unconscious flavors acquired by our different emotional experiences. Without understanding this aspect of language, we can often talk past each other.  This post describes this weekend’s flavoring of the words “Cops” and “God”  in my mind.

Flavoring “Cops”

Want Some of this Brought up in a very safe, boringly homogenous, middle-class neighborhood in America, I was taught that police are our friends.  My Boy Scouting re-enforced this.  Then came the Vietnam war where I became a conscientious objector. Friends were hurt in the war protests.  At Kent State, near my home, cops shot innocent college students. I started to hate and distrust “pigs” like many folks my age.

During my year-long hitchhike to India, I ran into police in many countries and feared them.  I had friends arrested.  I was arrested in Afghanistan but got out of jail due to very good fortune.  Corruption was rampant in many of these countries where police often had unchecked power.  The words “cop” and “police” became spiced with very nasty flavors.

Years later, again in Pakistan, a local university professor friend was hospitalized after being beaten.  I visited him at the hospital and naively asked, “Did you report this to the police?”  He replied, “The police?  The police did this!”  Apparently he had been called in by the police for “questioning” due to his Marxist writings.

Traveling again years later I met a woman traveler who had been raped by local police.  She did not report the abuse — she was just happy to leave that country alive.

Then came Japan where I met police who don’t carry weapons, who have little service offices in each community and who are treated with much respect.  My opinion and flavoring of the word “police” improved.

Later, I would work in Emergency and Trauma medicine for 20 years where I bonded with police offers who would come in to the ER with injuries to themselves or the criminal they had to fight to restrain. Cops became my friends – I understood their word and sympathized.

A few weeks ago, my son and I watch some horrendous videos on police abuse of blacks in simple traffic violation pull-overs.  And again I watch the pungent spices coat my word “cop”.

nypd_logoThen this last weekend, while couch surfing, my daughter and I stayed with a young husband and wife.  She was black Haitian and he was white, working-class Irish living in an Irish community in Bronx.  After arriving, I was surprised to also find out the he was a New York police officer.  He rode his bike to work, spoke fluent Spanish (self-taught and getting a masters in Hispanic literature).

With this fun exposure and great experiences with police officers in NYC who helped my daughter and me several times during our trip, I again watched how my mind flavored the word “cop” or “police”.

Flavoring “God”

God-Zeus-Yahweh-LightningOur experiences flavor our words and concepts — there is no escaping our personal subjectivity.  There is no universal meaning of a word — all words are used with unique flavorings. “God”, for example, is also differently by different people — and these vary at different times of their lives.  I’ve seen the changing flavors of “God” occur in my mind from my theist days to my atheist days.  The worse shift was when I saw people trying to tell my little children they are going to hell for not believing in “God”. “God” was then a horribly, rancid word.

prayingDuring our couch surfing this weekend, our hosts shared their very different religious experiences.  The Haitian wife was raise by a very superstitious mother who jumped from Catholicism to Seventh Day Adventist after her divorce. Our hostess loved her mother but did not “buy into any of that religious crap.”  Even though she would have nothing to do with her mother’s Seventh Day Adventist circle, the wife was very supportive of her husband’s faith.  Her husband, the cop, re-embraced his childhood Irish Catholicism during his father’s slow death about 8 years prior.  Her husband explained, “I don’t really believe a lot of the Catholicism but I find it very comforting and helps me get through my work day.”  He works in a very rough part of the Bronx.  His wife would occasionally join him at Mass though she did not participate — she said, it makes him feel good.  And he said he is thankful for her support even if she doesn’t believe.

WordsDuring our couchsurfing adventure, I watched my mind yet again re-flavor the words “cops” and “God”.   Whether the words describe fictional or real people, concrete or abstract ideas, it is fun to watch the mind spicing all these words. To me, this illustrates how illusory our feelings of ‘control’ and ‘self’ actually are.

Question to readers:  Please share a story where you have watched your mind weighting a word differently over time.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

5 responses to “Flavoring our Words: Cops and God

  1. TWF

    I’m not sure I follow the same recipes for word flavors. 😉 I think that certain categorical or classifying words have an underlying “ideal” to them, and I judge from that ideal. For examples, a “cop” is “someone who upholds and enforces the law”, and a “car” is “a relatively small ground vehicle which, under control of an individual, efficiently and reliably provides transportation.”

    In the case of cars, both a Lamborghini and a 1972 Ford Pinto are representatives of cars. Depending on how dilapidated that Pinto is, it may not even fit the “ideal” description any more, but it is still a car. And, just because I know that Pinto is more fit for the scrapheap than the road, my view of cars in general is not flavored by knowing of that Pinto.

    Similarly, just because I know that there are cops who are not lawful does not mean that my view of cops in general is colored by their actions, because the “ideal” still holds the standard.

    On the other hand, when you get to specific identities, then there is a lot of flavoring that goes on. I’ve seen it several times, such as with particular people or institutions. You get a first impression, dumping the majority of your “spice” into the pot of that identity. But then, as you continue to have interactions, you may realize that your first impression was wrong, or that there is a lot more going on than first met the eye (and tongue), and you make that identity a rich curry of “spices” as you more completely understand that person or thing.

    Heck, Sabio, you are an example of that individual flavoring to me. The “Sabio” I first identified was quasi-fanatical (about certain things), arrogant, and self-righteous, so much so that I didn’t visit your blog for months. But later, when I did visit again, and as I got to know you better, I came to realize that I was wrong about you. (Well, mostly wrong. But then, I think most of us, myself included, have a degree of those traits.) “Sabio” had a direct style of writing (particularly in comments) which could be off-putting, but it was not really based in an arrogance or quasi-fanatic self-righteousness. It’s more of an honest communication based on “Sabio’s” experience and wisdom. This “Sabio” does not necessarily exclude contrary views, and, in fact, often seeks them out, even if he disagrees.

  2. @ TWF

    LOL — very nice play: Taking “Sabio” as the analysis object.
    Do I owe your for couch time?

    Your opening seems to touching on the distinction in Philosophy of Language or perhaps even a metaphysical question debated since medieval times. I would be classified a “Nominalist” and you seem to to be stating some sort of “Platonism”, if I am not mistaken.

    See my: Philosophers, Share Thyself! And then go to the SEP article.

    A survey done of university philosophers show about 39% are Platonists, 38 are Nominalist and 23% are others (whatever that is). Not sure if you have read on it, but here is more.

    But listening to your later writing, it sounds like you may understand the nominalist position and are just a confused Platonist! 🙂

    I hope this further spicing to “Sabio” in your mind.

  3. BTW, TWF, have you heard of the “The Third Man Argument“?
    Your attachment to “Forms” is probably the same silly thinking pattern that fed much of your earlier theism too. You obviously are not totally cured of your delusions yet! 😉

  4. TWF

    I’m sorry Sabio, but it looks like I chose my words poorly with you. I didn’t mean “ideal” in the Platonic ideal “form” concept. Perhaps “definition” should have been a better word to use. However, I specifically chose not to use “definition” because, traditionally speaking, if X does not fit definition Y, then X Y. But with “ideal”, I figured it was easy to see how while X may not meet the definition of an ideal Y, it still may be possible for X to be classified as a Y.

    I didn’t remember the “Third Man Argument“. But, as I said, I don’t think it is applicable, because I wasn’t coming from the basis of a perfect “form”, but rather that of definitions, which mean exactly what we intend for them to mean. No more. No less. 😉

  5. Earnest

    I have felt various degrees of affinity for “vegetarianism”. I do enjoy well prepared vegetarian food, but to me it seems to be more of a hassle to put together than a meat dish.

    I may also be having varying degrees of revulsion towards the concept “processed meats” and may be consuming vegetarian food as a default.

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