Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/552

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WHEN studying a subject closely, we often discover that a simple word influences for right or wrong the whole matter, just as change of a note makes a different tune, or alters entirely the tone of the song. As Roget says: "A misapplied or misapprehended term is sufficient to give rise to fierce and interminable disputes; a misnomer has turned the tide of popular opinion; a verbal sophism has decided a party question; an artful watchword thrown among combustible material has kindled a flame of deadly warfare and changed the destiny of an empire." The word "punishment," as commonly used and understood judicially, should be eliminated from the tribunals that have to deal with that part of society that is known as the criminal class. Some one has said that jurists recognize only two terms in criminal law, "offense" and "punishment." The simplest and earliest definition of punishment is "to afflict with pain," and whenever the word is used it carries with it the idea or notion of consequent suffering. "There is undoubtedly a moral element in words; words are not neutral in the great conflict between good and evil, nor are there wanting, I suppose, in any language words that are the mournful record of the strange wickednesses which the genius of man, so fertile in evil, has invented." To the student of history does not the word punishment bring before the mind the cruel atrocities and horrible inflictions of the middle ages, with their gibbets, chains, racks, hot pincers, thumbscrews, and other hellish devices? It is a strange perversity of the human mind that many, very many words have deteriorated in their meaning; the word retaliation nowadays is never used to express a return of benefits, but always the paying of wrongs by wrongs; animosity, which was originally a very harmless word, is now used only to denote enmity and hate. I can recall no word that has taken the opposite course in our language, and the word punishment has now come by downward evolution from its original use to denote a spirit of vengeance, with its hatred, malice, and retribution, in the degraded sense of that word. Trench truthfully says: "There are often in words, contemplated singly, stores of passion as well as of historic truth; they are living powers, and quite as often and effectually embody facts of history or conviction of the moral common sense as of the imagination or passion of man; even as, so far as that moral sense may

  1. Presidential address delivered before the Society of Medical Jurisprudence at its annual meeting, held January 13, 1896.