Idols, Idols Everywhere

By July 29, 2008 language No Comments

Last week at A.Word.A.Day, the terms selected were all related to words and language. It made me all warm and fuzzy inside! The five words featured were:

grammatolatry | catachresis | parapraxis | lingua franca | orthoepy

Several were new-to-me and were great fun to meet; but the one that made a lasting impression is the first: grammatolatry. It is a noun defined as the worship of words: regard for the letter while ignoring the spirit of something.

ouch! Am I a grammatolater?

I do love words . . . but worship them? Webster’s defines worship as an action: to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power; to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion.

That first half of the definition is a no for me. But the second half could easily apply. I regard words and like them to be respected and honored. And I love it when I find someone who honors words and language as I do. Seems a bit suspicious . . .

Idolatry is nothing new. Scripture speaks of it early on, first in the form of handcrafted icons (Gen. 31), then of the work of our own hands (Ps. 115:4) and the desires of our hearts (Col. 3:5). Throughout history, humans have been prone to respect, honor, and devote our hearts to things other than the Lord.

No, idolatry is not new, but our current-day awareness of it is. (It’s so easy to downplay our own heart’s waywardness!) Identifying and tearing down our modern-day idols is now a hot topic in Christian circles. I heard Kelly Minter speak of this recently at the Women Reaching Women—Fully Loaded training conference in Indiana. And a quick search on cbd.com surfaced quite a few titles on the topic. (Perhaps there is one for breaking the grammar idol?)

Jesus taught that God alone was worthy of our worship and adoration. Often the Lord Jesus railed against the Pharisees for their dedication to the minutiae in the Law of God because they did so with little regard or love for God Himself (see Matthew 23, where Jesus blasts them with this accusation: “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”) This is referred to as obeying the letter of the Law while ignoring the spirit of the Law. (Here’s a great post describing this in detail.)

Interesting that the definition provided by A.Word.A.Day follows this thinking: Grammatolatry is regard for the letter while ignoring the spirit of something.

So rattling on about the rules and regulations of grammar is a Pharisaical mindset that focuses on the correctness of what is said rather than on who is saying it. It is the act of valuing the standard of perfect performance over the speaker’s heart and soul. Pharisees valued outer conformity, not people. Grammatolaters value outer conformity, not people. ouch, again.

Oh to be more like Jesus!

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