Who decides what words mean? In a way I believe it was somewhat organic. People used the word for server for a robot (robotiti) as a metaphor, and then that became the word for robot, the metaphor of robotiti “dies” a natural death. But then there is the case of USA politics and terms like “democrat.” (or people like Aristotle who gave new meaning to words like essence and substance in a very deliberate way). I believe words in the USA are kind of like commodities. (the term “organic” is certainly a commodity in the USA) The word democrat starts out appealing to people, and the alternative affiliations being repulsive, people get entrenched under the word democrat. Once the word democrat is “bought” it begins to change: kind of like how a new product uses extra flavoring to start, and once it gains name-recognition, the substance and essence of “democrat” put through the sausage-grinder of US media, gradually reduces in substance and essence the idea of “democrat,” as much as can be gotten away with. It is common knowledge that at one point “republican” was more similar to some current ideas of what a “democrat” is, and this will continue as fast as it needs to to maintain control over voters’ minds.
How do you resist?
We ought to know what meaning means first. “Pending a satisfactory explanation of the notion of meaning, linguists in semantic fields are in the situation of not knowing what they are talking about.” (Quine 1961 p 471) People say a word, what do they mean? They mean whatever it was that they wanted to mean. In other words, I don’t know. If you can figure out even a little of what they meant, success! That is communication. If you talk to someone who thinks meaning is decided from on high and they have to fit their lives into those meanings, then you have to talk to someone who is mind controlled. It is good practice in serious situations to use your mind first and then your mouth, not the other way around. And who decides what words mean? Usually editors and Elite People who are usually interested in consolidating the power of their class or profession, so they are “conservative,” at least as far as that word has any meaning.
Of course there is the problem that people might not know what they themselves mean. I would offer that this doesn’t matter, in a skeptical sense. What appears to person A when they utter a phrase B need not be analyzed by the listener until person A doesn’t know what they mean anymore. It is enough that it appears to person A that “phrase B”, and Aristotle’s eternal project of digging for a subject without a predicate (substance) need not be carried out.
The metaphors of “top down” and “bottom up”, are relevant, as is just about everything, since we are talking about what can be accomplished with language, and how to resist what has been accomplished. People, especially in the USA, are very used to words and their meanings being fixed, and think it is a sign of intelligence when they are used precisely. There is a great deal of anxiety in patients when words like their diagnoses are adjusted in official handbooks identifying (mental) illness. Playing with words is an important way to resist this top down understanding, but in the USA doing so will make you sound mad. As I have said before “English is not a language to play a language game with.” So English speakers in the USA and elsewhere are rather in a bind.