Every semester, staff and instructors at FTCC are allowed to take one class free of charge, and I almost always try to take advantage of that wonderful opportunity. This semester I am taking a class in critical thinking offered by the humanities department. Since learning to think critically is essential to the process of persuasive writing, I chose this class as part of my annual professional development to assist me in improving my English composition classes.
I wrote the material below in response to one a homework assignment in that class. After completing an assessment of our individual learning styles (no surprise: mine was verbal/linguistic, with musical as a close second), we had to answer questions in which we discussed and analyzed our specific results. The final question for the assignment read as follows: List no less [sic] than five reasons why a hot dog in a bun is not a sandwich. Explain your answers. This is my response:
This is a game I won’t play.
In George Orwell’s 1984, people are controlled by a government that decrees what words mean in the language of Newspeak because the ruling authorities understand that controlling words means controlling thoughts, and controlling thoughts means controlling actions. Some actions become impossible when the words for them disappear from the lexicon. In my view, the terrifying danger of the times we live in results precisely from the efforts of those in power to control us in precisely the same way. Such concepts as racism, justice, protest, and privilege, to name only a few, have been twisted out of their original meanings and are being used to terminate people from their jobs and, in come cases, take legal action against them.
In the case of this question, the person who wrote it is attempting to skew the answer by assuming a single definition of sandwich that doesn’t include the definition of hot dog. However, I refuse to let some arbitrary person tell me what words mean. That is one abdication of critical thinking I will not commit. I will find the definition for myself.
To do so, I first take the easy way out and simply type into the Google search bar “sandwich.” The single and simplified definition illustrates why I always tell my students NOT to use that dictionary:
an item of food consisting of two pieces of bread with meat, cheese, or other filling between them, eaten as a light meal
Because I know my students are unlikely to venture much further than the comparative ease of another online dictionary, I suggest that they use Merriam-Webster instead. Here, too, the result illustrates the wisdom of my suggestion:
1.a: two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between
b: one slice of bread covered with food
Clearly, this definition is an improvement because the options it provides offer a fuller and rounder expression of the general understanding of what constitutes a sandwich. As a final and instructive step, though, I turn to the dictionary I use in my own writing, American Heritage, 5th ed., because of the skill and care with which the usage panel considers, presents, and sometimes even discusses nuances of meaning. Here is sandwich:
1.a. Two or more slices of bread with a filling such as meat or cheese placed between them.
b. A partly split long or round roll containing a filling.
c. One slice of bread covered with a filling.
As the precision of these definitions increases, so too does the freedom of the speaker or writer to select a word that exactly expresses his or her intended meaning. And it is this precision of thought, along with the willingness to consider the existence of numerous possibilities, that characterizes the critical thinker.
That said, a hot dog is a sandwich.