Decode: Tolerance

I am going to be putting all of the "Decode" articles up online for easy reference. I'll let you know when I have that project completed, but in the mean time I'll be linking to the individual articles as I go. Here's a good one. Ever wonder why tolerance (by the modern definition) is getting harder to tolerate (in the classical sense)?

The first use of the word “tolerance” dates back to 1412, and it originally meant “endurance” or “fortitude.” Thus, to “tolerate” something (the verb form became an acceptable variation in 1531) was originally to survive or remain unaffected by an unpleasant or unwanted phenomenon. By 1539, however, “tolerance” was likewise associated with permissiveness, particularly on the part of government officials or others in authority, and by 1868, the word came to mean “an allowance of variation.” Note that in all three cases “tolerance” did not suggest an acceptance of that which was being tolerated. On the contrary, if one was “permissive” or “allowing,” it was always in spite of how one actually felt (usually negatively) about what was being permitted or allowed. This held true all the way through the end of the 19th century, when “tolerance” was first used to describe an acquired physical resistance to poisons, viruses, or other potentially harmful toxins. Indeed, it wasn’t until the late 1950s that users of the term started to insist that it also implied the supporting of ideas, values, and practices that differed from one’s own.

Read the rest of the article here.

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