Yesterday I heard the word ‘remoralize‘ for the first time in my life. Or, at least, I heard it as if it were the first time. A friend was talking about politics, in particular voting, and said that people needed to be remoralized. She then excused herself by saying, “I know that’s not a word.” I replied, “It sounds like a good one to me.” Both she and I thought she had created a neologism, a new word coined on the spot.
I don’t write about politics, but I do write about language, and I immediately thought this word was perfect for 2020.
Remoralize: Not a Neologism
Guess what? When I sat down to write about ‘remoralize’, I found the word in dictionaries. The Oxford English Dictionary cites as its first use a London Times article from 1817. A quick Google image search coughed up an inspirational poster with the word that I used for the title image. And it appears in book titles, like Remoralizing Britain? from 2009:
And in subtitles, such as the one for Essential Parenting from 2000:
The first definition relates to morals, right and wrong. Right and wrong are the province of values, ethics, and religious teachings.
The second sense relates to morale, the ability of a group to maintain belief in an institution or a goal. The group in question may be any group, small or large, anywhere: an English Department faculty, a football team, a Girl Scout troupe, a police department, the Catholic Church, the Republican Party, MoveOn.org, NATO headquarters, and on and on.
Remoralize: How Language Works
A. Whoever first wrote the word down in 1817 used the same mental/linguistic process as my friend did yesterday. On the analogy of demoralize, why not remoralize? Indeed. I’m happy to think of the 2020 creation as a case of recurrent emergence.
B. The two main senses of ‘remoralize’ can’t be neatly delineated. The murk of their overlap reflects the complexity of human cognition and the social world. This particular word is quite the chameleon and can adapt its color to blend into a wide range of contexts.
But it is hardly alone in its capacity to show up in different ways with different colors. We are largely unaware just how many of our words trade on shifting perspectives. (And we are unaware because we have no need to be aware, as we go about our daily lives.)
Take the sentence:
He must be married.
Only in context, can you know how to interpret it.
On one reading, you have the idea of an imperative. A king declares his frivolous son will settle down and make a good political alliance.
On another reading, you have the idea of an inference. You’re looking at a man who is wearing a wedding ring and carrying a toddler. You figure out his relationship status.
These two sense of ‘must’ have been bumping along in English for hundreds of years. And you may not, until just now, have twigged to this double-duty: external requirement v. internal reasoning.
So, I now ask you to put yourself inside the context of your choice – the one you really care about for 2020 – and remoralize!
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen