I have always loved words. One of my favorite early memories is of my dad reading to us at bedtime. One of those books—Alice in Wonderland—had a scene about words that delighted and puzzled me.
Alice ran into Humpty Dumpty, who had an attitude and an unusual verbal style. He used the word glory, for instance, to mean "there's a nice knock-down argument for you." Alice objected, "Glory does not mean a nice knock-down argument."
"When I use a word," Humpty said in a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty, "which is to be master—that's all." He explained that he always paid a word extra when he made it do a lot of work.
One of the words I think about a fair amount these days is evangelical. I grew up in a Swedish pietistic evangelical ...1