Today's language lesson

I’ve written before about my dedication to language. Another way in which that manifests itself is in how much I get bothered when I see or hear words being misused, especially when it’s done deliberately for purely political reasons.

For example, let’s look at the word “vigilante.”

Originally, it meant “member of a vigilance committee,” and it has evolved to refer to private citizens acting in a law-enforcement capacity without official sanction. Nowadays, though, it’s evolved into a pejorative term, usually applied to those who advocate enforcing laws others don’t like.

Here are a few examples:

1) A group of citizens band together to watch for people breaking the law by entering the United States illegally, and then notify law enforcement officials about the actions: not vigilantes. They are not enforcing the law directly, simply observing and reporting.

2) A police chief, fed up with federal apathy about illegal aliens, finds a novel application of existing law and arrests a Mexican who sneaked across the border for “criminal trespass”: not a vigilante. The chief is a licensed law enforcement officer; he is authorized and, indeed, required to enforce the laws by the government.

3) A man, fed up with people violating parking rules in his neighborhood, starts keying cars, spraypainting cars, smearing them with chocolate syrup, spray paint or dog feces, and various other punishments: this guy IS a vigilante.

I’m a smidgen sympathetic with Mr. Feest. I’ve been tempted to deal with parking idiots on my own. But I haven’t, and I’m not about to.

Here’s hoping the law jumps on Mr. Feest with both feet over this. I think they will — Massachusetts might have a history of giving weekend passes to convicted murderers serving life sentences and letting guys who leave a woman to drown in a car off with a suspended jail term and their license revoked, but this guy is a right-wing nut. He’s doomed.

The 10 Spot - Celebrities Gone Wild Edition
The big guy's burden


  1. Jim May 25, 2005
  2. wavemaker May 25, 2005
  3. htom May 25, 2005
  4. minnie May 25, 2005
  5. penny May 25, 2005
  6. slim999 May 25, 2005
  7. slim999 May 25, 2005
  8. fatman May 26, 2005