Apparently, if you want to make your political or social point stick, a sure-fire way to get a win in your favor is to have major organizations, or even the dictionary itself, change the definition of a word or a term to fit your narrative. In recent years, we have seen the definitions of a variety of pronouns change, as well as “woman,” “court-packing,” and most recently, “racism.”

Back in 2020, the ADL changed its definition of racism to “The marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed hierarchy that privileges white people.” This definition aligned with the ongoing outcry over racial justice in the wake of the George Floyd murder. The ADL chose to fall in line with a woke mentality that tried to sell the idea that racism can only be something felt by minorities. Previously, the ADL had defined racism as “the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another, that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics.”

Last week, QJL columnist Moshe Hill pointed out this change in definition in a scathing article he wrote for the website Vos Iz Neias. The article pointed out how far the ADL has moved in its political discord, and how it is no longer an organization Orthodox Jews can respect, as it stopped representing the interests shared by many in frum circles.

The ironic part of this new definition of racism by the ADL is that it agrees with the views of “The View” cohost Whoopi Goldberg. Remember, Goldberg stated that the Holocaust was not about racism precisely because it was entirely between white people. “Well, this is White people doing it to White people, so y’all gonna fight amongst yourselves,” quipped Goldberg while discussing her views on the Holocaust on a January episode of the daytime talk show. Since no black or brown people were a part of this conflict, the ADL at the time would probably have had to agree with Goldberg. After all, according to their very definition, racism had to marginalize or oppress people of color, and clearly Jews are white, as Goldberg repeatedly pointed out.

Now we cannot be sure that it was the Moshe Hill article or the possibility that the ADL realized that they would have to agree with the Goldberg statements, but the very next day after the Hill article was published, the ADL changed their definition for the second time in less than two years. It is now showing an “interim definition” of something that “occurs when individuals or institutions show more favorable evaluation or treatment of an individual or group based on race or ethnicity.” The reason that this is only interim is because based on this definition, white people can be victims of racism. That’s a big no-no in today’s society, and presumably, the ADL won’t want that portrayed on their pages. The ADL will certainly change this definition once they can come up with a description that includes Jews but excludes white people.

But this whole discussion brings up a bigger point. What is the purpose of the dictionary and defining words in the first place? Definitions serve one purpose: to ensure that words being spoken or written by one person are understood by another in the way the speaker or writer intended. If we change the definition of terms to mean something unintended by the speaker, we can effectively make someone say something they never intended on saying. As Hill pointed out, another term that had its definition recently changed is “anti-vaxxer,” which now includes anyone opposed to vaccine mandates. So even if you are fully vaccinated, you can be an anti-vaxxer too. Even if you are calling out individuals who are actually against vaccinating their children at all, you are an anti-vaxxer because you do not support forced vaccinations. Dictionary definitions can allow hypocrisy to manifest itself simply by changing the definition of words as they are being stated.

Dictionaries used to reflect how people use words. For instance, the dictionary did not decide that “google” should be a verb. Only in 2005, when people began to use the website as a verb, did Webster’s decide to add it to their lexicon. However, we have entered a universe where dictionaries and institutions are actively trying to effect the change of the definitions preemptively. It no longer matters if this is how words are being used. Institutions will now tell you how you ought to use words.

The problem is they do not give an alternative for how to refer to the thing you want to refer to. With the change in anti-vaxxer, how can I now refer to someone who just does not want to get vaccinated without referring to those against the mandates? How can I refer to the act of adding seats to a court without referring to those who simply select judges to replace retired ones? How can I refer to a person who thinks that white people are inherently inferior to other races? These words do not exist - and it’s by design. Those in charge of words either want there to be purposeful conflation between two entities (anti-vaxxers and court packing) to the point where they are all lumped into the same boat, or to explain that something simply does not exist (anti-white racism). Either way, those who define words have taken over as the authority of what you should say, rather than the historians of what is being said.

 By Izzo Zwiren