Why Oxford Dictionary’s 2016 Word of the Year Matters
by Ravi Zacharias
At the end of the day on November 8, 2016, India’s leading bankers were called to an 8 p.m. meeting by the prime minister. Totally unprepared for what was coming, they watched as an announcement was made to the nation on live television that all 500 and 1,000 rupee notes would be rendered nonnegotiable by midnight that same night. (Those are the biggest notes of currency and used for most daily expenses and all major purchases.) They were stunned, as was the nation.
The resulting financial earthquake plunged millions into chaos and confusion. The next morning before dawn the lines in front of every shuttered bank and ATM machine told the story in human fears. My colleague and I spent two days in our rooms as we couldn’t change our foreign currency. Some claimed that suicides and sudden deaths resulted.
The stated purpose for this decision is to undermine “black money,” which ranges from tax evasion to hoarding cash by terrorists. Political opponents have a different take, of course, saying that it is to restrict the financial resources of the opposition parties in the run-up to state elections. Whatever the truth, it’s something I have never witnessed in four decades of travel: a legal tender suddenly becoming valueless and small denominations having more worth than larger ones.
Value has to have a referent. Yet, at the whim of one man, everything that purportedly pointed to value was suddenly reduced to nothing. What was once “true” was now “untrue,” all to expose a lie masquerading as truth. So much for the statement of assurance, “You can take that to the bank.”
Demonetization is one thing. Devaluing truth and truthfulness is another, and it is systemically unlivable. A few days before demonetization in India, another announcement was made that would make the effect of demonetization a vacation in comparison: Oxford English Dictionary compilers recognized “post-truth” as the new Word of the Year.
Interestingly, the media, which flirt with untruths, and the academy, which never hesitates to replace absolutes with postmodern relativism, have come together to give our culture a new word…
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