Spanish class: done. In writing my final papers, I thought a lot about the way language forces us into certain boxes. As it's also the holiday season, this means it's also time to argue about whether "Baby, it's cold outside" is a terrible song, and the question hinges in part on language. One argument making the rounds from a couple years back centers on contextualizing the language used in the song
See, this woman is staying late, unchaperoned, at a dude’s house. In the 1940’s, that’s the kind of thing Good Girls aren’t supposed to do — and she wants people to think she’s a good girl… But she’s having a really good time, and she wants to stay, and so she is excusing her uncharacteristically bold behavior (either to the guy or to herself) by blaming it on the drink — unaware that the drink is actually really weak, maybe not even alcoholic at all.
But, of course, language is a living thing. Certain phrases might have a different meaning at different times, but they acquire new ones all the time.
The class I was taking was on liberation theology, and I was struck by how often I used phrases that, when unpacked, contained ideas that were expressly counter to the ones I was trying to say.
One thing I have found very interesting to do is to try to express ideas in a way that google translate can't screw up. It reveals a lot of assumptions I make about how my words will be received. Having worked as an ESL teacher, I knew there were a lot of phrases I used that didn't translate well, but trying to express philosophy in a second language really turned up the dial on what I would detect as questionable.
There's no conclusion here - I can't tell you if we should ban the song or not. But I do think it's an interesting window into how language changes, as well as historical context.