View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Sunday, February 01, 2004

Words Matter

Professor Lewis Glinert of Darmouth College writes in the Jerusalem Post of the importance of specfic words, and how particular terms both become politically charged, and then serve to frame the discussion. We've all noted with disgust NPR's reluctance to use the word "terrorist" to describe suicide murderers, and the Beeb's decision to call Saddam a "deposed President" rather than a "former dictator." Mr. Glinert notes that the cumulative effect of these decisions is real and powerful.

Our conventional rules of discourse and debate make it exceedingly difficult to do anything about this. It's no easy thing to halt a TV interview to take issue with the interviewer's choice of words, let alone to persuade an entire public that a particular word is tainted. As the sociologist of speech, Erving Goffman has observed, "In everyday life, it is usually possible for the performer to create intentionally almost any kind of false impression without putting himself in the indefensible position of having told a clear-cut lie."


But this is hardly enough. The times call for an urgent assessment of what we are being subjected to and for a quite new kind of training to deal with it. This training must not be limited to professionals. As in all modern conflicts, the entire community is at risk; it must therefore be familiarized with the propagandists' arts and trained to protect itself.

The stakes, as history has shown, are high. The successes of the Fascist/Marxist language machine in making the Jew vermin and tyranny democracy have been well learned by contemporary adversaries. But the angels can fight back. One may draw encouragement, for example, from the initial success of Western liberalism in combating so much that is prejudiced and discriminatory in our language.

Sadly, Mr. Glinert is short on specific suggestions. And as long as the Big Three, as well as Time, Newsweek, and the major papers are given to this sort of Orwellian reworking of the language, it's hard to see how we can reintroduce any level of fairness to mainstream discourse.

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