In my house, we’re into words. Instead of coffee table books, we have four dictionaries, two thesauruses, one book on synonyms and antonyms, and the official Scrabble dictionary (just in case) on or under the living room coffee table.
My personal favorite is our word history book. This tells odd little tidbits about word origins. No one else in my house finds this book interesting. The dictionary remains the household favorite. Our dictionaries have had the covers loved off them, and the pages rubbed thin from overuse.
A frequent topic of conversation is what something means. At least once a day there is a “word in question” for which no one can agree on the meaning. We’re all guessing wildly and finally someone goes groveling in to the dictionary.
Our quest for meaning is not limited to words, of course. Because I live with teenagers I question the grimaces, the rolling eyes, you get my point. “What do you mean by that” can be a handy little phrase. It’s one of those questions that can help defuse a potential argument. Or when delivered poorly, it can ignite an argument. What do you mean by that? It all depends on where you put the emphasis.
In my house, “What do you mean?” is reserved for innocent things such as free-standing words found in books and online.
Occasionally we run into phrases where the meaning is only meaningful if you were living in a very specific time period, such as the ’60s or the ’90s.
The phrase that has stumped my entire household is “Army of One.” What does that mean? So I did a little hunting around.
I asked two other people what they thought it meant. They too were clueless. I buckled down for serious research. I planned on calling recruiters all over the country. Noble idea. Then I thought of something easier.
I asked everyone who entered my house for a week. I got:
“Isn’t it an oxymoron?”
“I’m not going into the Army.”
“Let’s start a band – band of one.”
Remember, I live with teenagers and this is the age group that visits during the week.
Obviously the marketing scheme for the Army wasn’t working. The target age group doesn’t get it. I don’t think anyone gets it.
My search for understanding the meaning of this phrase was halted at Army 101, part of the “Go Army” Web site. There it was, plain as day.
“You will discover a life filled with adventure, and meet other smart, motivated people like you. Because the strength of the U.S. Army doesn’t only lie in numbers, it lies in you, an Army of One. If you want to stop thinking about your future and start living it, you’re ready to become an Army of One.”
It’s almost poetic. Soulful. But still, it requires a leap to get it. Not quite so clear.
I always imagined clarity with the military. But this is more like interpretive dance.
It’s artistic, creative, deep. I’m feeling hopeful about what might grow from this. Imagine a military that uses the power of words and ideas as their primary weapon.
Sarri Gilman is a freelance writer living on Whidbey Island. Her column on living with meaning and purpose runs every other Tuesday in The Herald. She is a therapist, a wife and a mother, and has founded two nonprofit organizations to serve homeless children. You can e-mail her at email@example.com