'Green' as a reused, recycled, repurposed word throughout history

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Greenies would like the term to stand for sustainability, healthier lifestyles, environmental stewardship, the organic movement, conscious living, weatherized homes, low carbon diets, etc., it has meant so much more. It covers as vast a terrain as the authors quoted using the word, thereby distinguishing and preserving its meaning through language. The trouble is, there is no Office of Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights to regulate unique definitions or meanings of common words. Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? You betcha.


So what's in a name? Labeling something implies that we recognize what it is. By accepting the name we assume we know what it is. Naming something can enhance agreement in communication but it has equally been a source of disastrous misunderstandings and misinterpretations. So a label is just that-- a label, not the item or inanimate object itself. Too late though as the mind grasps with a vice-like grip. The dominoes fall and we're off and running with emotionally-charged expectations that support our beliefs and opinions. A mental judgment forms--a by-product of being human, rationalization at its best. So wherein lies the truth behind the word? It remains veiled in ambiguity as it does not account for different perspectives or points of view.


It appears we're at the tipping point on greener living with so many popular establishments, movie stars, countries, groups and publications jumping on the bandwagon. Advertising is a clue. Green wording has replaced the old familiar "New and Improved" labels on food, clothing, construction materials, appliances, skin care, energy, you name it.


Before we are able to align and rally around this chosen word, "Green", it's worth exploring the historical perceptions around it. The word has symbolized or been associated with hope, growth, sickness, death, inexperience, youth, envy, jealousy, and the devil. Often it refers to nature, plants and oceans. Green can signify regeneration, fertility and rebirth for its connections to Spring. The Old English verb growan means "to grow". Islam venerates the color, as it expects paradise to be full of lush greenery. Its meaning can further be confounded by use as a noun e.g. be green; proper noun e.g. Greenland; verb e.g. to green; object of a preposition e.g. getting on the green; or adjective e.g. green economy. In honor (and sometimes shock) to those that have come before us, following are some notable quotables, in no particular order, that have stimulated the evolution of the word green.


Adolph Hitler, German Chancellor: "Anyone who sees and paints a sky green and fields blue ought to be sterilized."


D. H. Lawrence, British Author: "It is the grass of the field, most frail of all things, that supports all life all the time. But for the green grass, no empire would rise, no man would eat bread: for grain is grass; and Hercules or Napoleon or Henry Ford would alike be denied existence."


Richard M. DeVos, Co-founder of Amway Corp.: "The easiest thing to find on God's green earth is someone to tell you all the things you cannot do."


Mitch Hedberg, American Comedian: "On a traffic light green means go and yellow means yield, but on a banana it's just the opposite. Green means hold on, yellow means go ahead, and red means where the hell did you get that banana at? "


Oscar Wilde, British Author: "He had that curious love of green, which in individuals is always the sign of a subtle artistic temperament, and in nations is said to denote a laxity, if not a decadence of morals."


Ray Kroc, American Businessman: "As long as you're green, you're growing. As soon as you're ripe, you start to rot."


Dr. Seuss, American Writer and Cartoonist: "I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them, Sam I Am." John Fowles, English Novelist: "In essence the Renaissance was simply the green end of one of civilization's hardest winters."


Chris Patten, British Politician: "Green politics at its worst amounts to a sort of Zen fascism; less extreme, it denounces growth and seeks to stop the world so that we can all get off."


Norman Borlaug, American Scientist: "The green revolution has an entirely different meaning to most people in the affluent nations of the privileged world than to those in the developing nations of the forgotten world."


John Doerr, American Businessman: "Green-tech could be the largest economic opportunity of the 21st Century."


Derek Wall, Green Party of England & Wales: "How to be green? Many people have asked us this important question. It's really very simple and requires no expert knowledge or complex skills. Here's the answer. Consume less. Share more. Enjoy life."

Does labeling something "Green" make it so? You can't dispute the fact that Green, even when describing a color, is an evocative word. It provokes passion, frustration, disputes, camaraderie, joy, the green-eyed monster, hope, blank stares, mere shrugs and so much more. I wondered how it became so divisive. Are we all listening to the same thing and hearing something different? Is the problem the word itself?

It depends on whom you ask, their culture, language, age, and upbringing. Since the 20th Century, new parents were introduced to the Green Movement as the outcome of consuming too many blueberries or green/blue/purple-colored drinks. No one warned them on the implications of food dye on poop color.

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