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Mon., July 21, 2008, 5:44 a.m.

Word of the Day — grammatolatry

"So difficult it is to show the various meanings and imperfections of words when we have nothing else but words to do it with," wrote philosopher John Locke (1632-1704).

While there's truth in Locke's assertion, it's possible to overcome the difficulty to some extent. We construct small unambiguous building blocks, define them as precisely as we can, and then put them to work for bigger purposes (though in some languages, such as German, we often get carried away).

Fortunately, the English language abounds in words. And there are plenty of terms to describe these words themselves. This week we'll look at some of these meta-words or words about words and language.

grammatolatry (gram-uh-TOL-uh-tree) noun

   The worship of words: regard for the letter while ignoring the spirit of something.

[From Greek gramma (letter) + -latry (worship).]

Today's word in Visual Thesaurus:

-Anu Garg (words at

  "The worship of words is more pernicious than the worship of images. Grammatolatry is the worst species of idolatry."
   Robert Dale Owen; The Debatable Land Between This World And the Next; Trubner and Co; 1871.

There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for. -Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948)

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Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.