“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master -- that's all.”
-- From "Through the Looking Glass," by Lewis Carroll
A story in a local newspaper in the U.K. caught my eye this week, raising questions on the nature of truth and the craft of journalism.
The news that the Rev. Philip Young was standing for election to Parliament in the forthcoming General Election is of interest to the retired vicar’s family and friends -- and the electors of Suffolk no doubt. But I expect little notice to be taken of the news.
What I found of interest, from a professional journalist’s perspective, is the descriptors the subject of the story used in talking about himself. Young is identified as a retired clergyman of the Church of England -- but also as a Quaker and a Franciscan.
Young’s claim raises the philosophical question for journalists: to what extent may a person identify themselves? What shapes reality? Is it the social construction given by the subject of a story, or an outside arbiter -- an eternal truth, natural law, the Associated Press Stylebook? Which, to borrow from Humpty Dumpty, is to be master?
This issue arises on questions of gender these days. Is it Bruce or Caitlyn Jenner?