In many of my EWM classes, we have started the semester’s discussion debating the definition of a certain word; whether it be rhetoric, classical, agent/cy, or meaning. Throughout these classroom debates many valid and conflicting ideas get thrown around, leaving the class flustered and reaching the conclusions that a word can “mean” anything because we are the ones that give it meaning. As insightful to meaning as that is, it frustrates me that this is always the conclusion the class comes to. As humans we have been proven wrong so many times, the earth being flat, Pluto existing…. Yet we still take every discovery we make as truth and are uncomfortable with ambiguity.
I for one, welcome ambiguity because it leaves us with room to grow in our knowledge and prevents a life crisis when we have a new piece of information. I think Locke really understood this paradox. He asserts that words are just symbols of abstract and concrete things in our lives. This is where agency sneaks into this conversation. I believe that one of the reasons words change meaning is because we as symbol users are agents to our own ideas. There was a time when “rhetoric” was taboo and insulting, that is because people wanted to give a name to those tricking people out of a fairness with eloquent debate. Now however, rhetoric is more respected because we have broadened its meaning. Today no one would question whether Martin Luther King or Sojourner Truth where great rhetoricians; that is because it is not frowned upon to be an agent for something and therefore try to persuade others to join your cause.