Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘words’

I occasionally mix up words and their meanings, in part because I’m drawn to words that roll off the tongue and in part because my brain lacks optimal agility. But I try hard not to use words carelessly or thoughtlessly and I’m careful not to toss off bon mots without making sure I have a handle on what they actually mean. In the world of politics, however, all is fair, which doesn’t make it any easier to ignore the twisting and turning, the skewing and screwing of the meanings of certain words for the twin purposes of inspiring fear and misrepresenting the views of those unknown people known as the Others.

Who are these “Others”? What words can possibly describe a group, let alone their beliefs, which poses such a clear threat to our very way of life?  Ladies and gentlemen, I have met the enemy and he is apparently me. I am such an Other. I’m also a United States citizen and I’ve had it up to here with insults and aspersions and yes, I’m ready to fight back. Hand me a dictionary.  CA7XFZKMCAPQHZ2YCAA3QKOQCAEK026ZCA91YWSYCADB339QCALURQF8CAKSMRQCCAE1WP27CALZF82ECAUEL6XOCAEXMAGICAPCK0N9CA539OOSCAV1I7VECAWK10YWCAfighter

Herewith, a selective list of the most inexcusably misused words and phrases that are currently being fired off like weapons of mass deception. Believe me, I’ve barely begun:

 1.  liberal: showing or characterized by broad-mindedness; having political or social views favoring reform and progress. These are good views to have, American views, one might say. Furthermore, there is no evidence that liberals are less moral, less family-oriented or less about the American way of life.   

2.     socialism (see also socialist): A system of government that aims to prevent the concentration of wealth within a small segment of society, either by complete nationalization of the means of production and distribution or, as is far more common in contemporary society, selective nationalization of key industries while maintaining private ownership of capital and private business enterprise. People, we do NOT live in a socialist country and we’re not likely to. Government oversight is not a bad thing. It’s not always good either; I’m not keen about endless snooping disguised as protection from terrorism. But all this ranting about losing your “freedom”; what are we talking about? Freedom to openly carry a gun? You got it, at least in some states. Freedom from taxes? How would you like your vaunted terrorism protection provided to you? Or your roads paved? How about the freedom to live in this country without giving a crap about the effect your way of life has on other people? Yeah, I thought you’d like that one. If I were you, I’d pay more attention to privacy issues. But that’s another argument.  

3.      moral: (see also immoral); of or pertaining to matters of right and wrong. Believe it or not, the world is becoming more moral over time — slowly, imperceptibly and selectively throughout the world. For example, many people (although regrettably, not all) see slavery and genocide as wrong. It still seems necessary to remind the fine citizens of this country that people who don’t agree with them aren’t necessarily immoral. Neither are atheists or agnostics. Neither is the concept of social justice, never mind Glenn Beck. 

4.      elite: a group or class of persons enjoying superior intellectual, social, political, or economic status. Okay, I can see where this would inspire envy and anger, especially when it appears to be deliberately exclusionary. But then why do we exempt athletes, lucky reality show stars, or outrageously overpaid political commentators?  Why don’t we focus on the word’s secondary meaning, i.e. “best in class”? That’d give us all something to aspire to. 

5.      theory: a well-substantiated and plausible explanation of a phenomena. Scientific theories are generally accepted as true, unless and until new evidence is discovered that alters the accepted explanation. Scientific theories aren’t like conspiracy theories, and evolution isn’t just “one of several explanations.” 

6.    secular: wordly, temporal, not overtly religious (see also “humanist), i.e. someone who does not believe religion is required in order to “provide for the common good” or “promote the general welfare” of a society. Secularists may be atheist, agnostic, freethinkers, private religious, or spiritual; but not necessarily, as Newt Gingrich likes to say, “godless.” And yet, they do believe church and state need to stay very separate. I am proud to say that yes, I am a secular person and this is my country, too. 

7.      Constitution (of the United States): the foundation and source of the legal authority underlying the existence of the United States of America and the federal government of the United States. Three points to consider: a) it’s a legal document and subject to amendment and interpretation b) it does not appear to have been written in order to create and preserve a Christian nation but rather to protect a potentially persecuted minority 3) before anyone is accused of subverting the Constitution, the accuser should have read the Constitution.      

      I pride myself on being a reasonable, open-minded person who is more than willing to listen to the complaints and concerns of my fellow citizens. I share some of those concerns, especially as I begin to fill out my census form and consider how the information will be used. But I’ve been feeling under attack recently and I don’t like it. I’m getting a little edgy, not so much afraid as irritated. And you do not want to irritate me; I might wallop you with my Webster’s.  Websters2

Read Full Post »

Charlie Kaufman, screenwriter of such quirky films as Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation has written and directed a new one, called Synecdoche New York. The critics have helpfully provided a definition of “synecdoche”, which means “a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part, the special for the general or the general for the special.” The reviews have been almost as baffling as I suspect the movie must be. I think I’ll rent it; that way I can watch in small doses so as not to overly tax my mind, which is plenty baffled these days.

But the movie and its brainiac title got me thinking about vocabulary during this election season. Words – their meanings new, old and just plain baffling – are certainly getting their due. I decided to visit dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/) to look up a few of those that keep popping up in political speeches of late to see what the reference books think we mean:

  • liberal: favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs. Also open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc; also and marked by generosity
  • elite: the choice or best of anything considered collectively, as of a group or class of persons
  • taxes: fees charged (“levied”) by a government on a product, income, or activity. The purpose of taxation is to finance government expenditure. One of the most important uses of taxes is to finance public goods and services.
  • debate: a discussion, as of a public question in an assembly, involving opposing viewpoints; a formal contest in which the affirmative and negative sides of a proposition are advocated by opposing speakers; to deliberate upon or consider; Obsolete: to fight; quarrel.
  • socialism: any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.

I admit I’ve used only a portion of the multiple definitions I found for each of these words in order to make them as “neutral” as possible. The more definitions we find, the more choices we have as to how we might feel about a particular word. As language evolves, words are sometimes given new meanings which may come to dominate or eliminate older definitions.  Yet sometimes all it takes to give a neutral word a negative spin is to, say, substitute a partial meaning for a whole meaning or swap a general definition for a narrower one. Call it “Campaign Synecdoche 2008.”

Read Full Post »