"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'" (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass.)

"Gender", "reproductive health," "sexual education," "conjugal love." These are a few of the terms the Vatican says have been made, by radical feminists bent on muddying the ethical waters, to mean rather different things than they seem to mean.

A forthcoming 1,000-page glossary will set the record straight, say Catholic officials. The Catholic World News reports that the new glossary is intended to "help Church leaders [Catholic and otherwise] who are engaged in discussion of family-oriented public issues." The head of the Pontifical Council on the Family, Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, says the glossary will explain that such terms as "reproductive rights"—while they appear to mean one thing (in this case, the right to reproduce)—are now being used in a sense "exactly opposite to their literal meaning" (here, the right to abort). The problem, Trujillo says, is one of "cultural manipulation."

Of course, the problem is as old as words themselves. That old weasel, "interpretation," has always entered the political scene, turning venerable words to newly-minted—and sometimes questionable—uses. Sometimes such morphing of words has seemed so twisted that, as William Safire puts it in his Political Dictionary (Ballantine, 1978), "if they were not so laden with tragedy they would be funny." Safire cites "pacification" (in the Vietnam era, a "euphemism for crushing guerrilla resistance in an area").

In the spirit of the Vatican's attempt to recover older, more straightforward uses of words, here's a quick look at a new book that explores ...

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