Thursday, February 19, 2009

Semantics

How important are words? We learn language from our parents, our teachers, our peers. Our vocabulary grows as we are exposed to new words through reading or listening. When we don’t know the definition of a word, we may look it up in a dictionary for its proper meaning, but more likely we look at context—how the word is being used in the sentence—to discern the intended meaning.

What about the word abort?

If I say “Abort mission!” it brings to mind the word stop, as in the Disney movie "The Incredibles" ElastiGirl cries out "Mayday! Mayday! India-Golf Niner-Niner is buddyspiked! Abort-abort, there are children aboard this airplane! Abort-abort-abort! Abort-abort!!"

Abort means to terminate, or end, prematurely, as in before the intended time.

To one of Oklahoma City’s men in blue, the word “abort” meant “kill”, and this misunderstanding could have had serious consequences for a local resident expressing his First Amendment Rights to disagree with the president’s pro-abortion record.

Chip Harrison chose to express his First Amendment Rights by displaying a sign on the back of his car that reads “Abort Obama, not the unborn.” After being followed by the police, he was pulled over. Despite explaining that his sign was a play on words meaning "impeach" Obama not kill him, the officer confiscated the sign and reported Mr. Harrison to the Secret Service as a threat.

Meanwhile, the Secret Service arrived at his home and searched it in front of Mr. Harrison, his wife, and their two year old child. They interviewed him for about 30 minutes and then left, not finding any evidence Harrison was a threat to the president.

You can hear the story in the video below and judge for yourself whether the officer overreacted and violated Mr. Harrison’s First Amendment Rights because of his misinterpretation.


2 comments:

  1. Any perceived threat to the president, no matter how small, will be investigated by the Secret Service, so I don't blame them. The guy was probably trying to make a joke, but it backfired.

    But it was funny!

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  2. I don't think the guy was making a joke at all. I think he was creatively expressing his opinion and asking people to think.

    Like you say, the Secret Service must take each reported threat seriously. The question is did the OKC police go too far? Once they stopped Mr. Harrison and cited him, by law they had to report it to the Secret Service.

    But it appears that the OKC police need a refresher. Despite pulling him over, they should have dropped the matter entirely after Mr. Harrison's explanation.

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