Sunday, September 3, 2006


–noun (used with a singular verb)
3. the meaning, or an interpretation of the meaning, of a word, sign, sentence, etc.:
[Origin: 1655–65; sēmantikós having meaning, equiv. to sēmant(ós) marked (sēman-, base of sēmaínein to show, mark + -tos verbal adj. suffix; akin to sêma sign) + -ikos]

The dinner guests are discussing the connotations of the word "mistake." We are gathered to welcome home a friend who on Memorial Day had set off into the world on a significant life change. She is home on Labor Day, looking for the words to describe this change in plans.

It is not that she needs to explain her decision (other than to find an expedient way to tell the story) or even to make her peace with it. She has done that.

It is whether she should refer to it as a mistake. And this is where the topic has turned.

One argument is that this word carries a connotation of fault, and weakness. To call it a mistake, one guest suggests, casts the subject in a bad light. Another guest counters that owning mistakes, and correcting them, is the mark of a mature person. The mistake-maker actually influences the outcome of events, rather than calling them something that just "happened."

It is stronger than saying one changed one's mind, which sounds frivolous, even though it is the most accurate [change of mind - a decision to reverse an earlier decision]. A change of heart - a reversal of one's feelings, intentions, opinions- seems harder to argue, as emotions are subjective and often illogical.

Our hostess offers words like "choice," and "decision," which sound definitive and reasonable. But we learn that "choice" descends from "gustare," to taste, and "decision" and "decide" trace to a Latin term for "settlement." Meaning our friend could not settle on gusto for South America. Also, in some sense, partly true.

Even if we take our modern feelings for words like choice and decision, and ask if she made her lists of Pros and Cons, and organized her potential regret, and guided-journeyed herself through the next 2 years... the answer is yes.

So she has chosen. And decided. And changed her mind and her heart, and if she calls it a mistake, that only means she "took in error."

It is not the first definition in the list, or even in the top 5, but I did find this one, dear friend, in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law
2 : an erroneous belief: as a : a state of mind that is not in accordance with the facts existing at the time a contract is made and that may be a ground for the rescission or reformation of the contract

It doesn't really matter what you call it. You did what none around that table would have -- not once, but twice -- in taking the risk to do it, and then to rescind it. It is not ours to judge.

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