The meanings of words tend to take on several facets of usage. These meanings can change over time and space. One example is the form of address for kings in ancient times used to be ‘Your Awful Majesty’ connoting that the presence of the monarch evoked awe in the minds of his or her subjects. Later on the word ‘awe’ was used to describe surprise, wonder and even to some extend fear and disgust but in the present time the word ‘awesome’ has taken on the garb virtually of a slang. The entire gamut of descriptive words that may be used to describe a pretty, wonderful, awe-inspiring or even a magnificent performance is described in one single word – ‘Awesome’. Apparently the youth of today has hooked onto one word that is the answer to all situations!
“It relates to what we would like others to think of us, but it is not merely a concern with what others think” (Dooley 185-188).
Similarly ‘Vanity’ in times of yore connoted the excessive pride one felt in one’s appearance, displaying the feeling of being pompous and vainglorious. These days how a word like vanity is used is totally different. The interesting aspect of the usage of this word and others like it is that the meaning has a strange evolution and can go from a totally positive to a totally negative meaning while the vice versa is also true.
The earliest definition of vanity has been recognized to be an excessive obsession with oneself and one’s own abilities or attractiveness. It has also been called narcissism, and was not considered a positive virtue in anyone. With time, however, there has been a more tolerant view of the behavioral property of vanity, of being vain or being overly occupied with one’s own beauty and external looks (Hall 318). The old school concept of ‘swollen headedness’ was used commonly among young Turks who happened to get the idea that they were the cats whiskers literally and they had to be put down a peg or two to get them on an even keel.
Christian belief equated vanity to the seven deadly sins. The God himself said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (100 Bible verses about Vanity)
Philosophers were of the opinion that vanity was a reflection of egoism and false pride while the common man simple shied away from even catching his reflection in the mirror lest he or she be accused of being vain
Altered Meaning: Today, however, vanity seems to have opened up a whole new can of worms. Here and now vanity is a virtue that distinguishes the poor have-nots from the admirable haves! The vanity of a model or a beauty queen holds her in good stead as she struts about and has people falling all around her to catch even a small glimpse of her entire personality which is a sum total of her dress, her make-up and her overall attitude. A Philosophy professor, Robert M. Baird has said “Vanity of vanities.., all is vanity” (Baird 117-124)
Vanity has become a much coveted asset for those who are in the business of showing off, be it the fashion world, the movies, the corporate big wigs or even the creative functionality of the event managers.
Events may be official or personal the underlying feature is always the big fat ego and vanity of the one paying the big bucks for the arrangements. Thus, it is the personality of the individual that overpowers all other considerations to be able to make a statement about the opulence and affordability of assets that the individual wants to have highlighted among his peers, clientele and his subordinates. Therefore there is a great deal of accomplishment in the aspects of showing off for a certain bracket of people who have made the exhibition of their vanity and larger than life egos the very focus of their business enterprise and overall profitability index.
Thus, the contemporaneous utilization of the English language has undergone tremendous changes. In several cases there has been a total volte face of the meaning a word may have carried a few decades ago and its meaning today. Thus, when we think of a word like loyalty which should have had a positive meaning just a few decades ago and is today seen to connote something mean and sinister like sucking up to someone or trying to make some brownie points through apple polishing. The differences in the meanings attributed to any word are a reflection of the society’s progress and usage of the language. Overall usefulness of words and the retentively of their meanings in the language are a mere function of the frequency of their use as also the exposure the society may give that word through a number of experiences as has been highlighted in the above analysis.
100 Bible verses about Vanity. 6th Feb 2014 <http://www.openbible.info/topics/vanity>.
Baird, Robert M. "Meaning in life: Discovered or created?." Journal of Religion and Health 24.2 (1985): 117-124.
Dooley, D. J. "Pride, Prejudice, and Vanity in Elizabeth Bennet." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 20.2 (1965): 185-188.
Hall, James. Dictionary of Subjects & Symbols in Art. Newyork: Harper & Row, 1974.
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