Actually this subject bores me to tears, but here goes.
Daniel Kuehn links here to a group of libertarians who seem to want to reclaim the word “liberalism” from “progressive” or “left” liberals and demand that it be restricted to “classical liberalism.” Why? Because the modern sense betrays the original meaning, or so the argument goes (though whether the broad range of opinions within Classical liberalism is even representative of modern libertarianism seems highly dubious, to begin with).
This is rather like Austrians having a fit because the word “inflation” has evolved to mean “price inflation” rather than the earlier meaning of “monetary inflation” (for a debunking of that tired argument, see here).
But, taken seriously, this argument would require that libertarians must abandon the word “libertarian” for their own political movement.
Why is that?
We need only consult that wonderful resource, the Oxford English Dictionary (3rd. edn. 2010).
In its earliest sense, the word “libertarian” seemed to have neither a political nor economic sense, but meant simply “a person who supports the view that human beings have free will” – as opposed to “necessarians” who denied free will (Oxford English Dictionary [3rd. edn. 2010], s.v. “libertarian,” sense A.1).
The first cited use of the word in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1789 (but of course that may not be the first instance of the word’s use in English).
Therefore if one wants to take seriously the pedantic modern attempts to reclaim “liberalism,” one might just as well complain that modern “libertarians” have misappropriated the word “libertarian.” Therefore let us leave the word “libertarian” to the philosophers!
Of course, this is an absurd argument.
And it is not that we can’t abuse words, or that words cannot corrupt moral discourse, but that words change and develop over time, and anyone who demands that some word in our political or economic vocabulary must be restricted to its original or archaic meaning – as if they have some moral right to ban others’ use of language – is engaged in legerdemain.