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5 Words That Used to Mean the Exact Opposite

#2. A "Symposium" Used to Be Where You Got Sloshed

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The extent of my interactions with the word "symposium" is all those times in college I was tricked into going to an extra class that week. I would see a flyer and think, "Hey, if there's a flyer, there's probably going to be free crackers, store-brand soda, and maybe some cheap liquor." And while I was sometimes right about the cheap liquor (because professors) there was always that hidden fourth ingredient: people talking about things and (this is the worst part) expecting me to talk back and have meaningful opinions. I'm pretty much only good at that if I have a backspace button and the ability to pause for, like, eight minutes while I work out how to fix a sentence.

But it used to mean ...

Like most of our academic vernacular, "symposium" has its roots in Ancient Greek. Unlike most of our academic vernacular, it means kegger. While discussing abstract academic topics wasn't exactly frowned upon (because Greece), it was less "the purpose of the event" and more "one of the many side effects of everyone getting hammered," Greece being basically an entire country of "that guy who wants to launch into a Marxist critique of Anna Karenina whenever he gets past his third beer."

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"Phone numbers? Nah, man, the whole thing's a metaphor."

We didn't just change the meaning because "fuck it, it sounds Greek" (though I wouldn't put that past us) -- we changed the meaning because of Plato's Symposium. Even though the text itself is an examination of love (it's where we get the term "Platonic love" and, somewhat indirectly, "no homo") and largely about people getting sloshed together, we have such a cultural pretension-boner for everything Plato ever said that we just couldn't bring ourselves to attach the title of one of his books to "drinking Natty Light and bullshitting," so we just decided to turn it into something intellectual and refined. It's kinda like if future generations referred to study sessions as "De-Textbooking."

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"Stop plugging your book!" I'm not! The Cracked editors are mainly responsible for that one. My book has space pirates!

#1. An "Apology" Was a Defense

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Apologies are an explanation of a mistake, an effort to seek forgiveness, and anger-fodder for all the pedantic dicks on the Internet who think they can glean a person's sincerity from their word choice. Which makes a lot of sense, because ...

But it used to mean ...

A "defense." When Plato wrote Apology (man, that guy's coming up a lot today), he wasn't saying that Socrates was sorry for what he had done -- he was highlighting a speech in which Socrates claimed he hadn't actually done anything wrong. And while it might seem that that's the exact opposite of what we think an apology is, it fits perfectly with how we respond to them: with an attack (on the Internet, anyway).

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Confirming the idea that a good apology can end any argument.

Think about it: Whether or not we forgive someone depends on how well they structure their apology. Sure, we might argue that a more sincere apology actually translates to more sincere feelings, but in the case of apologizing celebrities, politicians, and other public figures, we're dealing with people who fake sincerity professionally. Their career is literally to throw words at us that we'll believe, even if they don't make sense -- and if you've even heard of these people, that's because they're good at it. Do you really think the difference between "I'm sorry you were offended" and "I'm sorry for offending you" has anything to do with what's going on in their head? When politicians are deciding whether or not to apologize, their every syllable is carefully structured to be appealing to the highest percentage of people. Whether or not they're actually sorry has literally nothing to do with their apology -- they're just choosing the best tactic to minimize the amount of damage. And that's what a defense is.

Strip that away, and an apology is a promise to do better. So we should be focusing on the actions that follow an apology rather than the precise wording of it. Not because all celebrity and politician apologies are fake, but because it's literally impossible for us to tell.

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Special circumstances excluded.

JF Sargent wants to plug his book again, unless the editors removed his first plug, in which case he wants to plug it for the first time. He can be argued with on Tumblr, Twitter and something called Facebook.

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