Perfect: A Word with No Meaning

Photo by Bruce Berrien

Photo by Bruce Berrien.

There are several words in this language called English that I find to be arbitrary, without real meaning. I’m sure they exist in many languages, but I know this one, so I’ll talk about this one.

One of those words, perhaps the main one, is the word perfect. It is, if you think about it, a word with no meaning.

Now, let me explain to you what I’m talking about when I say ‘without real meaning’. I mean that either another word, with a different meaning, can replace the word perfect to more accurately describe what is trying to be described, or I mean that the word’s meaning is relative to the related surroundings.

Let me give you a couple of examples. When something is perfectly symmetrical, it is completely symmetrical. When someone gets a perfect score on an exam, it means they got every answer correct. In fact, a perfect score is judged in relation to the amount they could have gotten wrong, and this amount is centred around being 100% accurate. So, in reality, they got a complete score (complete because they got the complete 100%, which is what the exam was based upon). Even then the exam is based off of certain rules which indicate whether or not a question is right or wrong. The easiest of these rules lie in the multiple-choice quiz (did the participant circle the correct letter/number) and the more complicated are in a complex test, like in gymnastics (based on the parameters set by the rules of the sport, and by the governing body, and the hopefully unintentional bias of the judges).

Things then get more complicated when talking about perfect in the relational sense. ‘I had a perfect day’, ‘He’s perfect for me’, ‘God is perfect’. Respectively:

  • A perfect day is judged by a variety of parameters; namely, awareness of good vs. bad events, relationship with the days previous, and expected beliefs of what the day should be like. Needless to say, the perfectness of a day is completely relative.
  • A perfect partner is, again, based off of a set of predetermined ideas as to how a person should act, look, and feel. There are also numerous issues relative to this: is there one perfect partner, can mood affect the perfection of that partner?, etc.
  • God, if believed in by the person saying he/she is perfect, is based off of a set of rules for perfection based off of the religion of the person. Therefore that perfect God is completely relative to the person saying it. If not believed, then God, by default, cannot be perfect.
    • This is assuming there is no way of knowing that God exists. If religion is based off of faith, then there is no way of truly knowing if God exists. If he/she does exist, then there is no way of knowing if God is perfect (partly because there are no parameters to judge his/her perfection). If there is no God, then he/she, by default, cannot be perfect.

This, naturally, raised its own questions. The primary question being whether or not this makes any difference. Does the relativity of perfect matter?

Well, hopefully the understanding of its relativity does. It is highly unlikely that writing this will eradicate the word. Nor do I necessarily believe it should be eradicated.

I do however believe that we should recognise the dangers of such a word. Many women starve themselves to attain perfection, to have the perfect body. Many men and women wreck their relationships to attain perfection, to have the perfect career.

Perfection is, ultimately, arbitrary. By itself it means nothing. And yet we credit it with so much and strive to become it. But what does that even mean? Perhaps we should think twice next time before fighting for something that doesn’t even exist.

Words are powerful things. I have nothing against trying to be better. But what does that mean? What does better mean? Maybe we should take more time thinking about this.

P.S. This is still a developing thought, and if anyone is reading this and wants to raise an issue, do let me know. I enjoy a good discussion.

P.P.S. I also acknowledge this is an attempt to briefly talk about an incredibly complex issue.