What Words Say (2)

In the first part of this mini-series within the bigger Awakening The Christian Inside series and concerning words we use every day and which we don’t think too much about, we looked at the word ‘rule’.

Another word, the word ‘office’, is now the next item up for looking at. In the etymological dictionary the word ‘office ‘ is said to derive from Latin, two words in Latin – the first meaning ‘wealth’ and the second ‘power to act’. Now, to me, that is a revelation indeed; and I can hardly go further than to say that this derivation contains in it the kernel of all which I want to say to you about the word ‘office’ and its brothers and sisters (words like ‘official’ and ‘officer’ and ‘officious’).

Everyone knows, even the child who badgers you for a couple of cents or pesos to buy a sweet candy, knows that money enables; and very shrewd children learn early that money in quantity enables almost everything for the possessor of its wealth. Thus, as we say in Britain ‘Possession is nine-tenths of the law’.

(We mean by this that ownership of goods money and capital in general is protected by law so solidly and fiercely in nations with economies of our kind, which are based on the idea and sanctity of private property; that in this nation to own something is to presume to have and to actually have the law on your side – most of the time.)

So in our nations here money enables at law also. In the USA the guy O J Simpson – many believe firmly that he literally got away with murder. In Britain the girl Rebekah Brooks – many believe she got away scot free from serious detention penalties. Both these alleged escapees from justice it is considered by many had in common that a) they had enough capital backing to hire the best lawyers; and b) that this their money was what brought them off to walk free from serious criminal charges against them.

And indeed, what does ‘official’ a derivative word from the word ‘office’ actually mean?

There are some words in English which just don’t pin down. ‘Official’ is one of them. Others are ‘public domain’ and ‘published’ and ‘reasonable’. The old adage ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’ applies. Few out of any group of ten British persons would agree on what they consider to be ‘reasonable’ behaviour, or ‘reasonable’ prices. Copyright holders argue to great expense about whether or not an article has been ‘published’ or not. And just think about it for a minute: How might one decide whether an item is in the public domain or not? Tricky.

As for ‘official’ one hears of ‘Taylor Swift: The Official Lowdown’; and conversely these days one hears also of ‘Taylor Swift: The Unofficial Lowdown’; in glossy magazines for men and for women, and each is lure to a different attitude in us. The ‘Official’ Lowdown is going to have some evidential and authoritative credence for us, because the word ’official’ bestows this sense of veracity upon it and upon our understandings about the content. The ‘Unofficial’ Lowdown is more juicy, more likely to be salacious and seamy, the bits that the subjects want to hide from the public about their personal lives, and so on. And perversely there are those of us who take the ‘unofficial’ version to be more truthful, the actual truth; over and above the ‘official’ version; the flip side of the subject’s life in the raw.

‘Official’ then here is for devotees and old fashioned honest (naïve?) people. ‘Unofficial’ here is for the rebels, the ones who don’t take things at face value, the ones who always consider there’s a cover-up or a whitewash or a gloss over actually what happens.

Sceptics or cynics, gossips or nosey-parkers are on the one hand; on the other are straight-laced simple straightforward what-you-see-is-what-you-get people. Each group divided up in the main by the words ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’.

It’s the appeal to authority, just as with the words ‘rule’ and ‘ruler’ in the previous article, which enforces the power in the word ‘official’. In France and many European nations ‘officials’ as being people representative of authority vested in them are renowned and notorious as being, what we in the UK term ‘little-Hitlers’. The term is self-explanatory. Generally it is the case that one allows a person seeking its opportunity an inch of power vested in him/her as an ‘official;’ and no matter where you are in the world that person will take as much of the whole nine yards of that power as s/he can obtain and use.

‘Official’ then rubber stamps, endorses, with authority. To go back to our etymology for a moment ‘wealth’ connects with ‘power to act’ as being ‘official’. What might this mean? The petty official who makes life so difficult for so many whom they come into contact with; these serve their masters and mistresses religiously and devotedly; not so much out of loyalty, although loyalty might come into it; but rather out of the joy in the sway and exercise of power – of being able to push people around. And that’s it. Give a lumberjack an axe and he will cut down trees.

The loyalty, if any, to the sources of their power; be this the government or a local branch of a corporation, commonly is not much more than them knowing which side their bread is buttered on; or at best; gratitude to the sources of power for the investment of some of this power in themselves.

‘Official’ then lifts a thing, a person, a status, a service, a place, anything; into a different realm of being; as the thing which carries weight, ability to act (adversely against one) and so is a force to be reckoned with.

For many, many years in Britain ‘office’ workers, white-collar workers, were treated as, recognised in general as, and felt themselves to be, superior to manual workers, blue-collar workers. Employers treated them better. Better pay and conditions holiday entitlements and work environments. They were due more respect; were indeed respectable. They could obtain credit more easily were thought more reliable and honest, and a lower risk. Conversely blue-collar workers were considered less dependable, less credit worthy, more dubious people altogether. ‘Office’ worker was an appellation being a passport to privilege.

Government is always ‘official’. Government labels itself official as a hazard warning not to mess with it. The whole weight of the law and tradition and the constitution and the brute force of police and armed services are behind it when it warns you off public disturbance. Government has been defined by reputable sociology scholars as being ‘the sole place of legitimate force against a state’s citizens’.

‘Official’ to the experienced person then is a hazard warning; a caution that up ahead one has to go very carefully and steadily. This is just like the corporations’ ‘personnel departments’, now known dreadfully by the title ‘human resources’ which the naïve school leaver thought would help her to settle into her new job and assist her; but she discovered very soon that they weren’t angels but agents for the ‘official’ enemy and were not on her side at all. This is ‘official’.

How might all this relate to and inform ‘Awakening the Christian Inside’? Our Lord (my Lord, and he is yours too whether or not you want him or care for him) was said in several places in the Gospels to be ‘no respecter of persons’. This phrase is strange to our ears. It means roughly paraphrased that Jesus never took heed of ‘officialdoms’ of any kind. He was after seeking out the man and the woman in themselves; that item of humanity, in humanity, of whom Shylock says: ‘If you cut me; do I not bleed?’ That person within all of us; that which we call in our beds at night before we sleep: me.

The poet Robert Burns addresses also men and women without ‘respect to their persons’ without considering them as their Lordships or their Madames or their Your Worships or Your Dameships; nor as that beggar or those riffraff; but as human ‘poor forked animals’. Here is Robert Burns at his best:

‘Is there for honest poverty
That hangs his head and all that?
The coward slave, we pass him by,
We dare be poor for all that!
For all that and all that.
Our toils obscure and all that.
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp.
The Man’s the gold for all that.

What though on homely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, and all that.
Give fools their silks and knaves their wine,
A Man’s a Man for all that,
For all that and all that.
Their tinsel show and all that.
The honest man, though e’er so poor,
Is king of men for all that.

You see yon birkie, called a lord,
who struts, and stares and all that.
Though hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a cuif for all that.
For all that and all that,
His riband, star, and all that.
The man of independent mind
He looks and laughs at all that.

A prince can make a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, and all that,
But an honest man’s above his might.
Good faith, he mustn’t fault that!
For all that and all that,
Their dignities and all that.
The pith of sense and pride of worth
Are higher rank than all that.

Then let us pray that, come it may,
(As come it will for all that)
That Sense and Worth o’er all the earth
Shall bear the gree and all that.
For all that and all that,
It’s coming yet for all that,
That Man to Man the world o’er
Shall brothers be for all that.’

Jesus was the forerunner who cut through directly to the person beyond the title, the uniform, the regalia, the office. And indeed this is where we are to be found, if we are to say we are truly anywhere.

Until, as people and as a people, we are capable of seeing persons regardless of their trappings, their pretensions, their airs, their positions, their titles, their appurtenances and regalia, their vestments, and investments; until we are capable of judging ourselves by whom we really are; and against that Person Whom we all are to be measured next to, and never to be able to measure up to; until we see ourselves as responsible for every tittle and jot of our behaviours, and as required to abide the call to love and care-for, as being prime, primal and primary; and, pace Monty Python, as The Meaning of Life, we shall be embedded in entrapped by and incarcerated as unhappy lost beings whom ‘all like sheep have gone astray’. We shall have lost our gratis chance of happiness, and of course the Way to the Kingdom of Heaven.

God, and His manifestation in His Son, Jesus, might be looked upon as being ‘some infinitely gentle, infinitely suffering thing’; a Presence waiting behind a door on which we are invited to, urged to, offered to, knock.

‘The blind men

Make the rules

For the wise men

And the fools

It’s alright ma,

It’s life and life only’



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