Dynasties used to be related to heredity and the everlasting rulers of a country.

Empires were once the pure domain of a group of states or countries under a single, supreme, rule.

Today — in our colloquial everyday infusion — “dynasties” are winning basketball teams and “empires” are run by the likes of a Donald Trump. Has the common use of these ancient terms rotted the historic quality and importance of the dynasty and the empire?

Or have their definitions been merely stretched to deepen — and not cheapen — the meaning of those inspirational ideals? Should we allow words and their meanings to be elastic in the everyday?

Or must we be vigilant and hard as invokers of these ideas and refuse to allow multiple definitions for individual words? Do we want any common family to ever become a dynasty? Is there a danger is allowing every ordinary businessman to rule an empire?

24 Comments

  1. People want past success without creating their own. Sort of in the black community as mothers name their kids princess, king, sir, priest and mister to give them title of respect when born.

  2. Your comment reminds me, Karvain, of the boxer George Foreman who named all his kids “George Foreman I” then “George Foreman II” and so on all the way up to “V” I think. Is that providing a false sense of generational activity than is supported by reality?

  3. I think you are being to polite when you say defining down – I think it is dumbing down.
    Words have become too elastic in today’s world.
    I would say that in stretching they have become shallow and common place as opposed to the magnificence they used to hold.
    Do you think that this is related in anyway to the movement away from being proud of the British Empire to being rather ashamed of our Imperialistic past ? ( I use the British Empire as my example because I live there – I am not sure how other countries feel about their *Imperialistic History* the same way as we do.)
    I think what I am asking is are we normalising it because we are ashamed/frightened of what we once were ?

  4. Hi Nicola! Ah, yes, “dumbing down” might be just the right phrase of the day.
    Why do you think words have stretched? Is it due to laziness or just general malaise?
    I think the British Empire is quite an interesting comparison and I’m glad you brought it up for examination. I think there is a longing for the imperial past because today nation building is too real and too filled with lies to be romantic and in need of yearning.
    The old days — when building an empire meant something — is what those who cannot relate try to imply today by assigning the titles and titters of labels and institutions that used to be greater then than they are now in the historic view.

  5. I think that there is a need to link and aspire to the former glory and to self justify and self praise by using the comparison.
    We should have a new word for accomplishments in this century – these are very different accomplishments in a very different world – they need a different vocabulary.
    There is a great dilemma when using the word Empire – building Empires was a brutal bloody business , which cost thousands of lives on all sides. The British were rather good at it – and also rather good at sanitising the reality of it from their subjects. In these days of instant TV and video – they can no longer hide behind the length of time it took a story to get home. It would be cleaned up before releasing to Parliament and to the newspapers.
    Thanks to both the coverage of the Falklands War and the Iraq wars we are all to familiar with the horrors of war – it is no longer quite so glorious or romantic.
    Empire building is a term that is commonly in use even in the lowliest of offices – it should be network building in that instance.
    (Maybe it is all the fault ot that dreadful TV series Dynasty – bringing the word into popularist culture? )

  6. You are right, Nicola! We should retire certain words from ever being used again!
    Speaking of the imperial Brits — did you read Katha’s fine piece on the Indian Holocaust?
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2007/07/17/pro-british-and-amateurish-hitler-in-denial-of-mass-killing/
    We need to create new words for new horrors and leave the past where it belongs. Recognize the mistakes of the past but don’t whitewash them in the now to make something look better than it really is in the end.
    You might be right about television helping in this dumbing down of these complicated and specific events throughout history. It’s funny that in NYC one of the most popular words to add to the name of a Chinese restaurant is “Dynasty.”

  7. Yes I did read Katha’s excellent article when it was originally written.
    We need to remove our rose tinted spectacles when we look back and learn the lessons.
    So we can also blame the Chinese as well ?

  8. Gordon —
    There are those who think the Bush family is the new American Royalty: Two presidents, one governor, lots of money and political power everywhere. That’s part of the reason our current leader is referred to as “the imperial president.”
    It’s no joke that Bush sees calls himself the “Unitary President” and when you read the definition of “unitary” everything begins to come into shape about what we’ve been going through the last six years.
    I think we want a return to the common man — something new — something basic. I think that’s the appeal of Obama. He’s fresh and new and smart and non-tethered into the current power structure. I just wish he had a better wife.

  9. Not sure how much we owe China – will have a look around and see what I can find.
    That Vanity fair article rings so many bells and has many similarities with what is going on in the UK at the moment.
    We Have had ten years of TB – his Chancellor GB is now PM and all his chickens are coming home to roost.
    It is going to be a very bumpy ride.

  10. David:
    “Do we want any common family to ever become a dynasty?”
    Common as opposed to…
    … blue-blooded, i.e., already dynastic?
    … exotic?
    … something else?
    Is it not sufficient not to be labelled ‘common’ because the achievements have been rather uncommon?

  11. Nicola!
    I agree! We’re all going to wake up from this nightmare soon.
    Bush did not raise taxes to pay for his invasions. He borrowed from the Chinese instead to pay for it as the wealthy actually had their taxes cut.
    As of right now — if all USA involvement in the Middle East wars would end instantly — each American would owe $20,000.00 USD in “back taxes” to pay for the war.
    So a Democrat will get elected to set things right and balance the budget and pay for Bush’s war — no other wartime president refused to raise taxes to pay for his war — and then the liberals will be blamed by the neo-cons for bloating government and raising taxes to make it all right again even though government spending has never been higher than under Bush.

  12. Thanks for those great links, Nicola! If you get a hard number — which I find fascinating you could not easily discover — concerning UK indebtedness to China, please let us know!
    Thanks for the Thanksgiving good wishes! Right back at-cha, my love! 😀 I’m working on a Thanksgiving article right now…

  13. Hi Shefaly!
    I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you’re asking.
    Are you questioning my usage and the definition of “common?”
    Or are you saying that “blue-bloods” are common?
    Here’s the definition I was invoking as described by Oxford:

    • ordinary; of ordinary qualities; without special rank or position : the dwellings of common people | a common soldier.

  14. Hi David
    In Britain, the popular usage of the word ‘common’ means as opposed to ‘posh’ or upper class… 🙂 And it was easy to presume that meaning in this context.
    My note was actually wondering why common people becoming dynastic (presumably through uncommon achievement, not including accidents of birth; also applies to ordinary businessmen not all of whom command empires but some certainly build them and command them too) was such a bad idea..

  15. David:
    A word or concept has only as much power as we bestow upon it or invest it with, no?
    Words also morph over time so they come to mean different things.
    Why not let life take its own course? Surely Trump’s empire is not strictly comparable to the British empire of yore or what Niall Ferguson calls ‘an empire in denial’ (the US)…
    For a similar discussion in respect of identity proofs in use:
    http://confusedofcalcutta.com/2007/11/14/musing-about-openness-and-security/

  16. Shefaly —
    I don’t think words should change and morph over time — they do because we are sloppy and we allow already defined words to take on new definitions and extended meanings which creates randomness, chaos and misunderstanding as every word begins to reflect every other word. Invent new words. Don’t reinvent old words.
    Concepts are based on ideas given labels for shared understanding and meaning and, as we have discussed many times here before, those in the majority power do the naming and the attribution just as Foucault argued before us.
    So when Trump invokes “Empire” he certainly means the British empire of yore — while most of his minions and the simpleminded who don’t know any better begin to relate “Empire” not to Rome or Great Britain — but rather to a chain of casinos in Atlantic City and that confusion, that dumbing down of the word in colloquial use, is not helpful and is actually damaging.