By Austin Snedden
Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
We know language is always evolving, and new words are being invented, that is why the dictionary gets updates. One of the more frustrating parts of an evolving language is not the new words, but rather a new definition for a word that has been around for a long time. When these words or phrases are stolen, they are gone; they are off to their new home with no return. The old definition can’t show proof of ownership and get its word back. There is no brand inspector to find rustled words. If it is found, it already has a new brand on it, and the rightful owner is most likely now listed as the second or even third definition.
A relatively recent word heist, that most of us in agriculture are familiar with, is the word “sustainable.” Sustainable had been minding its own business, carrying along a wonderful definition that everyone understood. When all of a sudden, a politically correct mob jumped out of an alley bludgeoning Sustainable’s definition and stealing the word. Prior to the theft, Sustainable was first used in Webster’s Dictionary in 1924 with the definition of: “capable of being sustained.” After being hijacked by a politically correct mob and injected with environmentalism, Sustainable came to mean almost the exact opposite of its original definition. The theft of the word became noticeably clear to those of us in agriculture when people started telling farmers and ranchers (who had been doing the same thing on the same ground for over 100 years) how to be sustainable. Often, the model ranch or farm of the new Sustainable is the one that is most dependent on government payments, university grants, or funded as a tax shelter. The old Sustainable was unsustainable without a healthy balance sheet, the new Sustainable is all about feelings and emotion.
Who decided “partner” meant a live-in romantic interest? In agriculture, there are a lot of partnerships in the traditional definition. You might have partnered on a tractor or a bull or even some land. With the new definition, if I say “Old Earl and I are partners,” it could mean we are in business together, or it could mean we are picking out paint swatches and drapes to decorate our living room. I am not making a moral judgment here on anyone’s lifestyle choice, only a moral judgment on word theft.
Words are not the only things being stolen, phrases and acronyms aren’t safe either. For over 50 years in animal agriculture we have been using artificial insemination, commonly referred to as “AI.” Dairies and beef producers have used it regularly in their operations as well as their vocabularies. The phrase “artificial intelligence” shares the same initials, but up until recent times, it was purely a speculative futuristic concept and, therefore, not used much. With advancements in computer technology, the use of artificial intelligence has gotten widespread enough that people use the abbreviation “AI” regularly. You will see “AI” referenced in TV commercials, news headlines, and in conversation. People are using artificial intelligence to make smart homes where you can turn on your lights or oven by voice command, or even talk to your fridge while at the grocery store—or something like that. Many people have told me that after reading my writing they are fairly sure that I have artificial intelligence. Before reading, they thought I had intelligence, but after reading they are pretty confident my intelligence is artificial, of course that is another story. In the circles I hang out in, “AI” is always used in reference to bovine procreation. With that said, you can imagine the shock some of us in the cattle business have experienced when we hear someone say, “I am going to bring AI into my house.” Before my brain can make the conversion, I am two sentences in to telling said person that there are far better facilities for breeding cows than inside the house. Imagine the look on a rancher’s face when he sees a headline that reads ‘’Law Enforcement Uses AI to Track Fugitive.” Imagine my shock at seeing a TV commercial for a tech company, telling me that I can use AI to learn more about my customers. I don’t care how close you are to your customers; I am not sure that is the best route no matter which definition for “AI” you choose.
We have 26 letters in our alphabet. If you come up with a new idea or are part of a politically correct vocabulary gang, make a combination of those letters that isn’t already taken. This commandeering of words is causing serious sentence inflation. The more definitions there are for each word, the longer our sentences have to be to describe in what manner we are using each word, and for those of us that may or may not have artificial intelligence, it challenges the sustainability of our communication.