The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

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.

Posted at 7:35 AM to Almost Yogurt

"To induce someone...?"

Maybe it's me but that sounds more coercive than what people call "proselytizing" these days. When the Jehovah's Witnesses come to my door proselytizing, I tell them I'm not interested, and wonder of wonders, they leave!

Maybe they're just really lousy at "inducing."

Posted by: Kevin McGehee at 9:24 AM on 14 January 2003

The right to freedom of speech also includes the right to complain about speech (or actions) we don't like. If a lot of people do not like a particular action naturally the word we use for it will take on a negative connotation.

Posted by: Lynn at 9:28 AM on 14 January 2003

I am one of those fortunate few with an "Avoid Jehovah's Witnesses Free" card.

(My stepmother is a Witness, so it's her job to work on me, but she leaves me alone.)

Posted by: CGHill at 9:46 AM on 14 January 2003

My ex-wife is a Jehovah's Witness. I don't get any of it from her because I simply don't talk to her.

Simple. :)

Posted by: Steve at 5:20 PM on 14 January 2003

I looked up "induce":

1. To lead or move, as to a course of action, by influence or persuasion. See Synonyms at persuade.
2. To bring about or stimulate the occurrence of; cause: a drug used to induce labor.
3. To infer by inductive reasoning.

Nothing coercive there. So I think it's just you, Kevin. :-)


Posted by: Dean Esmay at 7:39 AM on 15 January 2003

Well Dean, Chaz at least told us which dictionary he was consulting...

Posted by: Kevin McGehee at 12:26 PM on 15 January 2003

American Heritage, which is pretty reliable for basic definitions in my experience.

Posted by: Dean Esmay at 2:24 AM on 18 January 2003