In his introduction to the first edition of Keywords, published in 1976 and reprinted in the revised edition of 1983, Raymond Williams makes a point that may have surprised, and may still surprise, many of his readers: “I do not share the optimism, or the theories which underlie it, of that popular kind of inter-war and surviving semantics which supposed that clarification of difficult words would help in the resolution of disputes conducted in their terms and often evidently confused by them” (Williams 1976: 24). This seems to be a warning to us intellectuals not to imagine that our findings will impact the public sphere in decisive ways. Critical thinking alone will not change the language, whose confusions are the results not just of “deficiencies of education” but of “different experiences and readings of experience” where every subgroup (or class)...
Keywords for Today: A Twenty-First-Century Vocabulary; The Keywords Project
David Simpson is Distinguished Professor and G. B. Needham Chair of English Emeritus at the University of California, Davis. His most recent book is States of Terror: History, Theory, Literature (2019). He is currently exploring a triad of keywords: civility, violence, literature.
David Simpson; Keywords for Today: A Twenty-First-Century Vocabulary; The Keywords Project. Modern Language Quarterly 1 March 2021; 82 (1): 136–139. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-8742560
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