I suppose I should answer the question I started with yesterday: When is a ban not a ban?
The answer of course, is: when it’s not a ban.
The meaning of the word now is quite set in stone: to forbid, not allow something to happen or exist. In the past however, it was a little more complex. It comes from the Proto-Germanic bannan, meaning proclaim, command, summon, outlaw, or forbid. Which is quite a range! Originally it seems that the word mean simply to proclaim, then came to be more commonly used to mean proclaim a threat, and then came to mean forbid.
There are still a few modern words which reveal these older meanings. Banal comes from old French, where ban evolved from decree, to authorisation, to payment for use for a communal oven or other shared good. So in this case the word came to be more about giving permission, than revoking it. Over time, it evolved from available to all, to commonplace, to boring and trite.
Another term that’s derived from ban is wedding banns, the official proclamation of marriage, usually made to the Church the couple belong to. The practice isn’t as common now as in the past, but some countries such as the Netherlands and France still require secular proclamations to be made. Interestingly, in the Canadian state of Ontario, banns “proclaimed openly in an audible voice during divine service” remain a legal alternative to acquiring a marriage licence, and two same-sex couples used this method to get married in 2001.
I hope someone on Trump’s team doesn’t see this (the man himself apparently doesn’t like to read, shockingly), and get the idea of saying that the Muslim ban is in fact just a proclamation. It would be pretty typical of how politics mangles language. Yet the history of the word ban also shows us how language continuously evolves. In “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell argued that language is flexible, and we could resist the vague language and euphemisms of political language by using clear, simple English. Similarly, we can determine the meanings of words in how we use them. Look at how the LGBTQ community and academia have reclaimed the word queer, dissolving much of its pejorative meaning. If we don’t like how our leaders use language, we can use it against them, by giving it the meaning we think it should have, not what they decide. If they tell us it’s not a Muslim ban while also telling us that Christians will get exceptional treatment, we can call it a Muslim ban. If they talk about alternative facts, we can rightly tell them that’s nonsense. Speaking and writing can be revolutionary acts, and hard to suppress.