Inhibiting with language

During the Middle Ages, language and the ability to have anything written down, were at the center of power in Catholic Europe. The common man (or woman) was powerless when faced with books they could neither read nor ever hope to afford — each book was original, hand inscribed and illustrated — treasured repositories of knowledge and laws. 

On top of that physical limitation, Latin was, for example, the language of the church that ruled Europe. Most people had no ability to learn Latin and that meant they were constrained from understanding the actual teachings of hand-inscribed Bibles even if they ever got a look at one. 

Totally reliant on what the educated priests told them, their lives, laws, rules, moral code were all often subject to a clergy’s interpretation of what he could — at times — barely read himself. 

And, of course, with each new church official redefining what the “word of God” was written in these secret texts, one day’s rules and laws were often changed to suit a new direction the church states wanted to promote.

When the first Bible was machine printed in 1455, that changed everything. Suddenly, they could print thousands of copies and there could be more access to these rarified documents. 

OK, the idea was to print them identically, to unify the message and therefore the interpretation. But soon cracks appeared, religions split, churches split — factions appeared within 50 years of that first printing. 

And yet, language and the current interpretation of the “word of God” still codified all laws and morality across nations. Churches established during the Reformation — Lutherans, Calvinists, Church of England — all quickly made versions of the Latin Bible into their own language and, thereby, interpretation. The Tyndale Bible of 1526 later morphed into the King James’ Bible, and so on.

When the Puritans ruled New England, they used the Bible — their version — as representing God’s true law. Yes, law, not belief. And from that they created a plan for all life in the new territories of the Americas. 

And it was the interpretation of the laws as gleaned from a pastor’s or bishop’s interpretation of Bible passages that were codified into laws affecting every citizen. Strict laws were enforced — often laws that only clergy could glean from the Bible’s teachings — more often the Old Testament rather than the New. 

To maintain law and order, the clergy had to have the last say on the Bible’s teachings. As the religious and therefore moral authority, clergy became the lawmakers or at least the purveyors of laws for officials. And much of their interpretation was clouded in secrecy and religious teaching — teaching usually out of reach of the common man — giving birth to laws, later codified often using that obscure language out of reach of the common man: Latin once again.

In our world today, the need for brevity amongst dedicated-topic parties, has created another hidden language: Acronyms. Acronyms allow a brevity of communication between people in the same line of work, among people with common interests, among people wishing to obfuscate issues, or lock out people when the users wish to deny access to a conversation. 

In a way, the use of acronyms today is much like the use of Latin in the Middle Ages. If you don’t understand what is being said about whatever general topic then you are locked out. If those who use acronyms for this purpose are officials, their intent is clear: you are in the dark and therefore either ignorant (inferior) or subject to rule by the very fact that you are not capable of knowing or understanding.

Texting on phones has sprung a whole host of these acronyms. On the face of it, these acronyms like LOL, IRL, J/K seem harmless but they and hundreds of others are a distinct language known by some, not all. 

There is no unifying communication here. It is divisive. It is a new set of moral values. Similarly, NASA created a set of acronyms for brevity sake that have, by and large, locked out normal people from really understanding the complexities and importance of all aspects of NASA space programs. 

Do you know what SST, ACTS, or LEM mean? Yet these and hundreds and hundreds of others affect your everyday existence. Same goes with the military (1,000s), the medical profession (1,000s), general science (1,000s), industry (1,000s) and, never least, government operations. 

Do you know what BLM, BPD, CBO, EBSA, FERC, FRB, GAO, IAEA, ITC, NSC, OSC, OSTP, PRM (among hundreds more) mean? You don’t? Well then, welcome to the new Middle Ages.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.