I inherited a tattered cookbook from my grandmother, a Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook from 1950. When I turned to it for a carrot cake recipe, there was none. So I checked for one in a 1990s cookbook I inherited from my father. This book started off the entry with, “Carrot cake is as American as apple pie”. Wow, what a big cultural change in a short period of time.
It seemed to me a more rapid adoption than the slow change in language to gender-free titles or the adoption of the use of the singular they pronoun.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I enjoyed have out-of-town visitors to show around my city. I used those opportunities to visit a little shop that sold only rainbow items. The emotional connection that rainbows evinced at that time was joy.
The native peoples of the Andes had a different association which was expressed by using a rainbow of colors in their national symbol, the Wiphala, which is used as a square flag.
Some of these are made up of 7 bars of color while others are 7 x7 squares with the colors running diagonally. Some of their people want to avoid creating confusion in their international diplomacy about their flag’s meaning by adopting the diagonal format generally. See Wikipedia.
You know why, right?
There is now a mental association between gay and rainbow.
The rainbow may now become a symbol for the struggle for equal human rights. Anyway, as writers, editors, and designers, we need to check out the current interpretations of symbols we choose to use in communicating meaning.
Investigate Change in Meanings
To investigate new words that don’t even appear in a dictionary, I use UrbanDictionary.com. Rainbow has 57 new associations.
I was hoping I could find a visual thesaurus or visual dictionary that would be of assistance in this quest but I have not so far. They seem concerned with word labels not psychosocial meanings. For example:
Visible light Electromagnetic radiation that is perceived by the human eye and ranges from red to violet.
So, do check on alternative uses of the words and symbols you choose–to make sure you will communicate effectively.