There are - most people would agree, and some of them aggressively so - more important things than words. Still, words are important enough, if one reflects that those who have been deprived of them from birth never - for better or worse - become part of the human community. Orwell - via Newspeak - suggests another way in which they are important - in the manipulation of thought, and through thought, behaviour.
In a 1944 essay entitled 'The Death of Words', C.S. Lewis deals with what may be a natural - or at least unconscious - form of the erosion of meaning in language. This is the transition of a word from having a descriptive meaning, to having a purely judgemental meaning. This can happen in two ways - the word can become pejorative, or it can become the opposite, which Lewis refers to as "eulogistic".
The pejorative shift is more common:
It is certainly true that nearly all our terms of abuse were originally terms of description; to call a man 'villain' defined his legal status long before it came to denounce his morality.
But I doubt if that is the whole story. There are, indeed, few words which were once insulting and are now complimentary - 'democrat' is the only one that comes readily to mind. But surely there are words that have become merely complimentary - words which once had a definable sense and which are now nothing more than noises of vague approval? The clearest example is the word 'gentleman'. This was once (like 'villain') a term which defined a social and heraldic fact. The question whether Snooks was a gentleman was almost as soluble as the question whether he was a barrister or Master of Arts. The same question, asked forty years ago (when it was asked very often), admitted of no solution. The word had become merely eulogisitic... This is one of the ways in which words die.
He goes on to say:
The vocabulary of flattery and insult is continually enlarged at the expense of the vocabulary of definition. As old horses go to the knacker's yard, or old ships to the breakers, so words in their last decay go to swell the enormous list of synonyms for good and bad.
With this in mind, I wonder what it says about our current age that the word 'anti-science' is now used so often in certain quarters as merely pejorative - a way of dismissing an argument - and that 'scientific' is used merely to mean 'reliable' (with 'unscientific' to mean 'unreliable'). Is this a trend in which all that is 'unscientific' merely becomes illegitimate and unthinkable, with 'scientific' (following the eulogistic usage of such words as 'Christian' and 'American') being simply the undescriptive, rallying flag of the realm that is (we are compelled to believe) all there is?
Lewis's essay ends as follows:
And when, however reverently, you have killed a word you have also, as far as in you lay, blotted from the human mind the thing that word originally stood for. Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten how to say.