August 07, 2011

A pet peeve


[dons Grammar Nazi jackboots and Schirmmütze]

I must draw to your attention a new threat to the purity of our mother tongue: the unrestrained use of the term deconstruct, as seen, for example, in this review by Kevin DeYoung (which is pretty good, and you should read it anyway):

Evangelicals can make the mistake of thinking the Bible says everything about everything. They can also be guilty of majoring on the minors or forcing the Bible to address matters it never meant to address. Smith is right to deconstruct these tendencies.

Deconstruction is a form of literary theory, founded in the 1960s by Jacques Derrida, who famously wrote, "il n'y a pas de hors-texte" ("there is nothing outside the text"). He challenged the assumption that words have a stable reference point outside of other words (there is no objective link between a word and the object it symbolize). Words can only be defined with other words, which can only be defined with other words, and so on and so forth. Nor is there any such thing as authorial intent; that, too, lies outside the text. To deconstruct a text, then, is to abandon all assumptions about meaning, and construct new meanings through new coinages, wordplay, and so forth: finding conflicting meanings for the text and unraveling the points it purports to make.

When DeYoung points out a few inconsistencies in Christian Smith's arguments (e.g. that "biblicism" doesn't work because evangelicals can't agree on essentials, yet Christians ought to get together and agree on essentials), he is in fact deconstructing Smith's argument by exposing areas in which it is incoherent. However, when he concedes that "Smith is right to deconstruct" wacky Evangelical Bible-reading tendencies, it appears that he is using the term deconstruct in a different way. I haven't read the book, but from reading DeYoung's post, it doesn't appear to me that Smith is saying it's impossible to find the Evangelicals' meaning. It's implied that he does understand their meaning. He just finds it foolish.

When you are tempted to use deconstruct when you mean something like analyze, rebut, or criticize, please use another word: for example, analyze, rebut, or criticize.

That is all.