14 January 2003
The lexicographers of Room 101
First, the dictionary definition:
proselytize, v. intr. 1. To induce someone to convert to one's own religious faith. 2. To induce someone to join one's own political party or to espouse one's doctrine. v. tr. To convert (a person) from one belief, doctrine, cause, or faith to another.
Now maybe it's just me, or maybe it's just a sign of the times, but I never hear this word from someone who is actually trying to perform the act described in definition 1. Where I do hear it, mostly, is from people complaining that some religious um, "faith-based" organization is doing this, possibly with government money: "Don't look, Ethel! They're proselytizing!"
Now the First Amendment, quite properly, restricts the government from pushing one denomination or another, and if tax money is going into this sort of thing, complaints are in order. But what has happened is that the very word that describes the process, however innocent, has acquired a negative connotation, and those who aren't inclined to think kindly of religious groups in the first place (and I'm discovering that there are more of them than I thought) are more likely to use it, not as a description, but as a bludgeon.
And so the language is further debased, and another thoughtcrime is entered into the dictionary of Newspeak.