enemy

An enemy is a person who is against an idea or another person or group of people. Not like leaning against it — against it in the philosophical sense. Opposed to it.

“Enemy” is a loaded word. It’s serious and scary. An enemy is a threat to you — your ideas, your family, your friends, your safety.

Here at Wordmonster, when someone tells us another person is our enemy (or worse: THE enemy, as if there’s only one enemy of anything and that person is it), we fight the urge to panic. Despite what you may have heard, most people don’t hate us.

Instead of panicking, we ask as many questions as we can, starting with these two: 1. Is this “enemy” really my enemy, or might the person speaking be exaggerating or misinformed? 2. Is there any reason this person might want me to think other people are my enemies even if they’re not? Maybe he’s trying to recruit us to join his army or stand by and do nothing while he punches our “enemy” in the face.

We also try not to let scary words affect how we treat other people.

privilege

A privilege is something nice you get even though you didn’t earn it. Sometimes it’s a tangible thing like a surprise helicopter ride, and sometimes it’s a bunch of subtler things, like the way people usually treat you.

When people have the second kind of privileges, we say they are “privileged.”

We’re all privileged in one way or another. Being “privileged” is sort of like being lucky in very specific, predictable ways.

Maybe your government trusts you to make your own medical decisions. Maybe nobody takes one look at you and assumes you’re dangerous or bad at math. Maybe you get to walk around knowing that, should you be attacked, nobody is going to think it was your fault. Maybe you’re allowed to marry the person you love. If so: Lucky you!

These privileges don’t sound like privileges in the same way a surprise helicopter ride does. So if you do have them, you might not feel especially lucky. But you are, and everyone who isn’t is counting on you to stick up for them when the going gets rough.

Thanks for helping. You’re the best.

earn

When you earn something, it means you worked for it. The idea is that the work you did entitles you to the thing you got.

But “earn” can also mean “get.” Say two people do the same job and each receives an annual salary of $35,000, but one of them is terrible at the job. We still say the bad employee “earns” $35,000 a year.

It is easy to confuse these definitions.

Is someone working 80 hours a week at three different minimum-wage jobs “earning” less money/time off/health insurance than a hedge fund manager? In the sense that “earn” means “acquire,” then yes, definitely! But in the other, hazier sense of the word — the one that implies a fair trade for the volume and difficulty of the work performed — probably not. In fact, it’s possible that the hedge-fund manager wouldn’t “earn” nearly as much money if the minimum-wage worker was paid what she earned.

It’s important to remember this when you hear people on TV and the internet talking about who has earned what.

time for a new word: bitch

We’ve seen this before: A word starts out meaning one thing — a completely valid thing! — but over time, it comes to mean something very different. Sometimes the second meaning completely eclipses the first, but a small group of devotees will cling to the original meaning of the word, daring everyone to challenge it.

Guys, it’s really sad when you do that. It’s time for a new word.

Today’s word-that-doesn’t-mean-what-it-once-meant is “bitch.” Once, a bitch was a female dog. That’s all it was. Then one day a very long time ago, some clever bro thought it would be funny to compare actual human women to female dogs. It was a metaphor. Get it? Har har.

Here in the 21st century, when you hear the word “bitch,” it’s almost certainly a sexist slur (unless you’re a dog breeder or something, but maybe even then). Or, in gerund form (bitching), it means complaining. The one thing practically nobody thinks of is dogs. But every once in a while, someone will use it the old way.

The Time For a New Word Committee wants these people to know that if they don’t stop living in the past, the rest of us are going to assume they’re just trying to get away with saying “bitch” without the risk of being punched in the mouth by a woman.