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Word of the Week: ‘meaningful’


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘meaningful’.

Theresa may.png

This week we are taking a look at the meaning, er, of the word ‘meaningful’ following the result of last night’s ‘meaningful vote’ – a phrase which has seen a 5000% increase in Google searches across the UK and has played a historic role in the fate of our crummy island.

It was the first time MPs had the chance to vote on the agreement after two years of difficult negotiations. The result? The deal was shot down in the heaviest parliamentary defeat of the democratic era, with Prime Minister Theresa May now facing a vote of no confidence.

As the word may indicate, it is serious stuff. Its synonyms, gems like, ‘meaty’, ‘substantive’, and ‘pregnant’ confirm this.

It almost suggests that, until now, Brexit was meaningless. It was just a bit of a laff, a bit of very British banter – the sort you might have down the pub with your good mate Nigel over a nice cold pint of John Smith’s.

 The meaning of life

The word ‘meaningful’ was first recorded in the 1850s, and as an adjective, means to well, have meaning. It derives from the word ‘mean’ which has its roots in the Old English ‘mænan’ – ‘to signify, tell, or complain’.

It also refers to something serious, important or worthwhile, and is quite often a word that people desperately try to apply to their own existence in the face of looming existential DREAD. Or apparently, Brexit. Heavy.

It was, and continues to be, the word on most philosophers’ lips. Google it alongside the word ‘life’ and you are presented with a smorgasbord of articles, listicles, documentaries and books all claiming to have the well-kept secret to a ‘meaningful life’. Google it alongside the word ‘tattoo’ and you are presented with thousands of reasons never to get one.

Further definitions include ‘communicating something that is not directly expressed’. A meaningful look in film, literature or sometimes in life, always works as a powerful narrative device. There is no better way to ask, “is she for real?” without words.

Austrian psychiatrist and author of Man’s Search For Meaning, Victor E. Frankl, conceded that life’s meaning is to be found in the way we approach our inevitable suffering. Similarly, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche stated that: “to live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering”.

With that in mind, if, when all of this is over, we can no longer go on cheap package holidays to the Costa Del Sol – we can only hope there will be some larger and more positive meaning in our suffering. After all, to paraphrase, didn’t Nietzsche also say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?

Joe McAweaney