Words and their meanings | Inquirer News

Words and their meanings

/ 08:25 AM August 01, 2012

The Gospel according to St. John begins, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.”

Is it only serendipity or is it divine foresight that there is a current obsession among post-modernist thinkers for words and their meanings? They believe that the words we use and how we use them define us by defining how we ourselves see the world. So you say, the dictionary says it all and you would only be half-right. There is a gap between dictionary meanings and how a word might actually be used in real life. The meanings of words are changing all the time even as realities themselves change. New words are born all the time. Words die in due course.


For example, politicians especially demagogues use the words “popular” and “populist” as if they were synonymous, which of course they are not. Some political options may seem to favor or are favored by the masses of the population even if they work against them in the long run and vice versa. And yet people who simply want to cater to popular approval would not make that distinction. The less so now with elections just around the corner.

How does the dictionary define “helmet”? Perhaps it might say, “protective head gear” but this meaning would not be enough. For as everyone knows, one should think in terms of protection from what and under what circumstances. The issue of motorcycle helmets and the local tradition of it has always defied the most basic common sense. Stories and myths have spun all about it. And one might have seen the most curious things on the road.


Why, for instance, does there seem to be a local tradition of wearing helmets front-backwards? There must be a reason or why would people do it? It looks ridiculous and it most likely will feel so if you were the one actually doing it. After all, you do not put your T-shirt on backwards. And if you did as I tried to do it certainly feels funny. And yet, there you are, motorcycle riders on the road, their motorcycle helmets on backwards. And what degree of protection do they expect if their heads should smash into the pavement?

Does the issue of head protection escape us? Do we wear the helmet only to comply with the requirements of law? Do we simply wear our helmets for a hat? I should even ask?

And so you might have seen all sorts of helmets on the road: combat helmets, biking helmets, football helmets, jet fighter helmets, plastic toy helmets, cooking utensils; and if you have been ever so lucky or unlucky as the case may be even a piss-pot or orinola.

And so there can be no argument here. We do require a system of regulating motorcycle helmets. Some people may see its inherent unpopularity. But we have to take it with a measure of political maturity. This certainly is a case of the unpopular being in the long run the populist option. For it is a fact that roads are dangerous. All the more so, if you have pregnant women, babies and little children on the road with little more than a piss-pot for protection.

We cannot be a civilized society and let the issue pass without doing anything about it. And even if motorcycle riders themselves find it inconvenient, still it must be done. If only for the simplest of all reasons, it is the right thing to do. It is government’s responsibility to take care of its population whether they like it or not. And it must do this by enacting laws and enforcing it.

Unfortunately, this early, we can already see this is an issue that is headed for much controversy. First, the open disinclination of local officials to enforce the new helmet law. But if it is law then it is law. If the enforcers of law cannot enforce what is the law then they must have the good grace to yield to other people who can. Or, run for Congress so they might themselves change the law. But to be fair, the issue raised was the law’s enforceability. There are not enough law enforcement personnel to enforce this particular law. And yet, one must retort, so too other traffic laws. So what’s new?

Still, there are certainly issues that need to be addressed, issues having to do with certifying unpopular but excellent quality professional helmets not on the Department of Trade and Industry’s list. And there are issues of whether or not the helmets actually work. And what of this rumor going about that you can buy the certification stickers in Mandaue City for as low as P150?

But it is a fact. Motorcycle helmets are now sold everywhere even at department stores at malls. And riders seem to be buying at brisk pace. Which only proves that despite its alleged unpopularity now, in the long run people will come to understand the true meaning of the word: It is called a crash helmet for a clear reason. In a crash, it might be the only thing between you and death, or as some of us say, even worse, an expensive brain operation.

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TAGS: Gospel according to St. John, Gospels, Helmet, Laws, Safety of citizens, words
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