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Semantics of forgiveness and Oprah

Home » Language psychology » Idea » Semantics of forgiveness and Oprah

The semantics of forgiveness cannot afford to be flawed

The semantics of forgiveness was readily apparent in the following statement by Oprah Winfrey:

Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different, it’s accepting the past for what it was, and using this moment and this time to help yourself move forward.

Oprah

But the statement gave me pause, so I have broken down the reason why below. However, first let’s establish an understanding of the use of the word hope. The “Perfect English Grammar” website provides an excellent reference for when and how to use it. The source states the following:

“We use ‘hope’ to talk about things in the present or future that we think have a good chance of happening.”

“Perfect English Grammar” website

The semantic case for WHY the proposition is flawed, though well-intended

You don’t give up the hope that the past could have been any different because could have been already expresses either that:

  1. There is a possibility of something BEING TRUE in the past, although it was not in fact TRUE. (Therefore, how or why would you maintain hope?)
  2. It is possible that something was TRUE in the past, although it did not in fact HAPPEN. (We now know that it didn’t happen, so, again, how or why would you maintain hope?)

These meanings of could is according to the “TheFreeDictionary.com.”

The semantic analysis for HOW to improve the proposition

From a present-tense perspective, hope refers to an opportunity that is already lost, NOT an impossibility. So there is no longer any point in hoping, hence:

  • I give up the hope that the past could be any different.

From a past-tense perspective, hope no longer refers to an opportunity that was lost but to an impossible situation, something that we cannot change. Therefore, we are now referring to the future in the past. So there is an even stronger reason to no longer hope, hence:

  • I gave up the hope that the past would be any different.

A BETTER way to improve the proposition

  • I give up the wish that the past would be different.

SIMILARLY,

  • I wish that it would stop raining.

The “Perfect English Grammar” website has an excellent reference for using the word wish. It states the following:

“It’s not usually used about [our selves], or about something which nobody can change though, exceptionally, we do use it about the weather.”

“Perfect English Grammar” website

The BEST way to improve the proposition

  • I wish that the past had been different.

THEREFORE,

  • I give up the wish that the past had been any different.

So the original statement would be better and correctly expressed as follows:

Forgiveness is giving up the [wish] that the past [had been] any different. [I]t’s accepting the past for what it was and using this moment and this time to help [you] move forward.

A revision to the original quote

Syntactic analysis

While could may be used to express OPPORTUNITY in the present, could have does not. Instead, it expresses something else altogether as a tense used to refer to a past event that DID NOT in fact HAPPEN or to something that was NOT in fact TRUE.

The above link to the “TheFreeDictionary.com” does an excellent job navigating the different uses of could.

CONCLUSION

Let’s not forget the power of forgiveness: it’s about you giving up the horrible construct of regret. Entertaining hope when there is an extraordinary unlikelihood of the thing hoped for coming to be is the epitome of regret. Indeed, the past could never be different than what it was, unless we are referring to differing recollections of it, which is a whole other ball game. And in that game, no amount or degree of semantics can help you manoeuvre the inherent lack of rules that would be involved in how we see or process our own subjective experiences.

Garie McIntosh
Garie McIntosh
Garie started out in administration in the fields of healthcare, project management and database development. Since 2016, he has been working to further develop himself as a fiction writer while working on his grammatical and linguistic pursuits. He considers that storytelling is analogous to communication. Garie writes stories with strong, authentic characters that are defined by strong writing and themes, and he thereby reinforces the power of communication. He has written and published his first novel, What's in a Name. Garie has created and developed McIntoshLinguistics, an educational and grammatical editing business for manuscripts. It offers tools to provide grammatical editing that identifies and/or addresses errors, irregularities or ambiguities in manuscripts. Google knowledge panel

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