Just a Thought on the Words We Use.

I'm alright, for the most part, with hyperbole. I tolerate people who claim they will literally perish if something insignificant does not turn out in their favor. I don't cringe when people say, in a manner generally indicative of an eight year old, that such-and-such the the greatest thing EVER. I've gotten over my annoyance when every single political figure is, in turn, likened to Adolf Hitler.

There's one that really gets me, though, addiction.

The word has lost it's meaning. It's now a synonym for 'great enthusiasm,' or for any activity the speaker sees as excessive.

"He's addicted to pizza/playstation/motorcycles/coffee/yoga/American Idol/the sound of his own voice," and such are repeated often to express disdain over others' proclivities. A colleague said to me that I'm "addicted to skydiving," to give a specific example.

I'm not okay with this one. Addiction is a debilitating psychological disease, a compulsion that destroys individuals afflicted with it and ruins the lives of those around them. It tears families apart and, in the worst of circumstances, it kills.

Addiction is the psychological inability to halt a behavior, most obviously characterized by a continuation of said behavior despite obvious and immediate negative consequences. Moreover, the halting of the behavior usually leads to physical withdrawl symptoms, even for addictions that are not drug related. Addiction is not simply enjoying or engaging in an activity more often or more intensely than others feel is reasonable.

An addict will lie, cheat, steal, betray, manipulate and even risk their own life to continue in their addiction. That thing, that monkey, the "ring-dang-do" as Robert Downey Sr. put it, consumes every moment, replaces every motivation and becomes a singular and self-justifying purpose for any kind of self-destruction, for all manner of conceit. It is not a synonym for a favored hobby.

Do I have a good reason why this particular bit of misappropriated rhetoric bothers me while so many others don't, not objectively. It bothers me because I've been a witness to it so I suppose I'm not different than those who complain about the misappropriation of any other word. It is indicative, though, of a certain rhetorical weariness in the world at large, an unwillingness to pay attention to statements that are less than fantastical.

I might be guilty of the very sin that I highlight but I think this callousing of understanding, this inability to accept a cogent and reasonable statement is a big part of that is wrong with discourse in America today.

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nursemyra said...

I'm probably guilty of misusing this word and saying to people that I'm addicted to blogging. sorry if this offends you Tom.

I get annoyed by the way people use the word "literally". When someone says "I was literally shitting myself" I want to hand them a washcloth and direct them to the nearest bathroom.

Anonymous said...

I really must agree with nursemyra, that people use the word literally far more inappropriately than addiction. Whenever addiction was hijacked by psychologists and was henceforth used for behaviors that had no physical withdrawal symptoms, the word lost most of it's meaning. The word was a medical term and shrinks have the authority to misappropriate if they see fit.

I know the mind doctors define non physical addiction as a behavior that causes trauma in their lives. You very well could be considered addicted to jumping from planes. With my novice psychology dictionary writing ability i think a fair definition of subjective addiction is a behavior that causes mental pain when the behavior is forced to an end. Obviously the buddists have concluded the same thing and found the cure to being addicted to life, id est, losing one's attachment to it. As long as you continue to bring your chute i don't foresee your skydiving addiction being a problem.