Way back at the beginning of this past Lent, I had to hand out Rice Bowls to my high schoolers. And one young lady, whom I shall affectionately refer to as the Peanut Gallery*, asked “what are these for?” Here is a paraphrase of the following conversation:
“They are for almsgiving during Lent,” quoth I.
Peanut Gallery, rather aggressively, “What is almsgiving?”
Me, trying very hard to neither sound sarcastic, nor to tear my hair out, “Almsgiving is giving to the poor.”
Peanut Gallery, now highly exasperated, “Well, why didn’t you call it that in the first place??”
“I did. That’s what almsgiving means.”
She quit talking to me after that, which was convenient, as I’d just finished handing out all the Rice Bowls and needed to actually start teaching. But this little story isn’t here to make fun of her. It isn’t even to illuminate the dismal vocabulary of modern high school students. This story illuminates a even more pervasive modern trend.
There is a difference between charity and almsgiving. Charity can be, and frequently is, contracted down to “donating to the poor” but its scope is significantly broader. Especially in CCE. On the other hand, almsgiving is very precise. So why don’t we use the word?
The same thing is happening with ‘parish’. My parish doesn’t call itself a parish, but proudly proclaims itself a ‘Catholic Community’. Again we go from the very specific ‘parish’ (an ecclesiastical district with it’s own priest), to the more vague ‘community’ (a social geographic group with common ties, in this particular case religious ones). A parish is surely a community, but not all Catholic communities are parishes. Community, while accurate enough for government work, sounds oddly disconnected from the rest of the Church.
These are just two that have been bothering me lately. I’m sure there are more instances where precise vocabulary is replaced by vague. My question is, why is it happening?
* Because she must** comment on everything.
** Much like myself.