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In Search of a Better Word

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Well, its that time of year again, for those of us that follow the British tradition Remeberance Day is comming soon. I just got back from the launch of the Veterans Week vignette (TV Commercial) and every speaker mentioned sacrifice.

Well we all know what sacrifice means. The thing I need is a better word for sacrifice, I'd like to be able to convey the exchange of ones life for the values that make such a thing worth living in a way that celebrates that rational heroic choice rather than tieing it to duty or piety or any of the standard platitudes.

Ive gone to the thesaurus but none of the associated words are any better (as a matter of fact if you ever need to prove the point about what sacrifice really means have the person look the word up in a thesaurus).

Any suggestions?

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There's a quotation from the Bible (it's a huge book, it can't be all wrong) more or less like this "greater love hath no man than this, that he put his body between his family and war's desolation." Maybe I have it wrong, but the sentiment is right.

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"greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for another" Its defining love that gets the point your looking for across in this context.

That is exactly not my point.

Soldiers don't give their lives for others, but for the values that they hold dearer than merely living. Dying to defeat Nazism is acceptable when living under such a tyranny would not be, because it would rob the man of his values, and essentially his life.

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That is exactly not my point.

Soldiers don't give their lives for others, but for the values that they hold dearer than merely living. Dying to defeat Nazism is acceptable when living under such a tyranny would not be, because it would rob the man of his values, and essentially his life.

Sorry Zip, I was responding to D Kian. Heroism seems to have less negative stigma attached to it.

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I recall having a similar conversation with Jenni about this a while back, and IIRC we didn't come up with a satisfactory solution. Zip's right, we need a word with the same emotional impact that also has the same full range of grammatical usage as sacrifice, ie in noun-form, verb-form, and adjectival-form. We need a single word that adequately describes the active willingness to endure or bring upon oneself great costs in order for there to be a chance of receiving even greater value as a consequence of that act, and which does NOT have packaged into it the bearing of great costs in disregard for benefits. If we had that in place, derivative uses such as application to work of the men and women who let us sleep soundly in our beds at night would follow logically.

The fact that we don't have a separate word for it (AFAIK), that 'sacrifice' is used by the common man for that purpose, is a major part of why many people still view sacrifice as a positive - for instance, look at the first meanings both as a noun and a verb that the Encarta Dictionary in MS Word gives when you click on "All Reference Books" after a Shift-F7. As far as most people understand it, sacrifice is a positive, and do so because at root what they have in mind is the particular sentiment Objectivism is happy to promote - ie an interpretation that is pro-life. It is only on that basis that intellectuals of many stripes are able to smuggle in the actual meaning of the word sacrifice (see the second pair of meanings in the same place) and then belittle those who have no truck with it. This package needs to be torn asunder. Any takers?

JJM

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A not-so-related question: which is the "actual" meaning if the more common usage is "pay a high price for an even higher value"? (It's that hoary old linguistic debate between prescriptivist and descriptivist.)

I know John is alluding to "give up something of great value for nothing (or less than nothing)" but I maintain (contra Rand, so sanction me) that the first meaning is the "actual" meaning of the word, though it may not always have been.

If one does not believe a word can change meaning legitimately, check out the history of the word "silly."

"Sacrifice" would therefore be a word that needs to be rescued, just like "selfishness", not abandoned to the package deal.

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Investment would be the word that I would use.

Such a term implies that the individual would expect some sort of future return, which is difficult to envision for someone who has died. Good term, I think, to appropriate to those who have served in the Military and returned safely, but not those who died.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Zip,

I have given this issue a bit of thought myself, and even posted at my board about it.

Clearly, the term "investment" DOES work in situations where you hear someone speak of the "sacrifices" they make in respect of raising children or saving to buy a home.

In the context of the "sacrifices" made by military personnel, I like the term I heard one newscaster (thankfully) use this past Nov. 11. He said those who died "paid the ultimate price."

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For one thing it is better to use verbs such as traded, exchanged for describing these actions. People frequently say that someone "gave" their life, which implies it was just discarded and nothing received in return. If you say that Private Charlie exchanged his life today, even without specifying what he got back, it implies that there was something there and I think it would reduce the confusion.

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