Alan Wolfe is a TNR contributing editor and director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College.
When John McWhorter tells us liberals, today on TNR.com, to give up our fixation with the term, it is not clear if he is speaking as a linguist, a political pundit, or, increasingly fashionable these days, both. In any case, I could not disagree more.
Words change their meaning, as McWhorter rightly points out; one of my favorites is the persistent use of the term "condescend" in Jane Austen, where it is clearly meant as a compliment. But words do not change their meaning through acts of God. Their meanings change because we change them. This, I dare say, is precisely why McWhorter took to this site to make his argument. He was not merely announcing that the old meaning of liberal is now pass