Monday, February 09, 2004

'IGNORANT' GETS A BAD RAP

I was at a party on Friday night and while talking with a young woman, whom I had just met, I was forced into a defence of Canadian culture and history as is not uncommon for me given my area of study and my corresponding belief in Canada as a country.

Now, while elaborating on some of the finer and more important points of early 19th century Canadian history my partner in conversation seemed to think I was condescending her ability to grasp these concepts. "On the contrary," I said, "I'm not calling you stupid, just ignorant." At this my interlocutor was rather taken aback and obviously any ability to make a good impression had vanished. Not that this really concerned me, I'll admit that I was attempting to be somewhat abrasive.

However, I really don't think that 'ignorant' should carry the negative connotation that it does these days. Strictly speaking I understand ignorance as simply meaning a condition of unknowing, of having a lack of knowledge about something. I went to my Shorter OED, as I am wont to do, for further elaboration.

It appears that the definition of 'ignorant' as an adjective dates back to late middle English with the meaning of "lacking knowledge (general or particular); not versed in a subject, unaware of a fact." It was not until the late 19th century that 'ignorant' gained its more negative connotation when it colloquially became associated with a state of being "ill-mannered or uncouth."

I really think we should try and strip 'ignorant' of its negative connotation and return it to is purer more innocent middle English meaning. Everyone is ignorant to a degree. There are many things I am ignorant of. More appropriate topics of conversation with a young woman on Friday night is perahps one of them.

Posted by Matthew @ 3:29 AM