Monday, March 29, 2010

The Power of Words

Language is the way we communicate and it is the way we persuade.

Word usage can make the difference between positive and negatives, good and bad, black and white. It can make things clearer or it can muddy the waters so much that the reader (0r listener) will never see the bottom of the pond.

The media today is full of language that, as far as I am concerned, are disingenuous twistings of meanings. The words are meant to convey one thing while meaning something else.

Sometimes words even lose their meaning because no one really knows what they are talking about.


Cost-Recovery Program for EMS. This is a local program wherein you have to pay when the rescue squad comes and gets you. The county charges insurance companies only and if you have no insurance, supposedly you do not receive a bill. When I was writing about this for the newspaper, I insisted on calling it "pay for service" because that is really what it is. Cost Recovery is just a bureaucratic way of hiding what the program really does.

Death tax v. estate tax. Calling a tax on a multi-million dollar estate a "death tax" strikes fear into the heart of the little fellow who will never have a million dollar estate, much less a multi-million dollar estate, regardless of his hopes and dreams.

Death panel v. end-of-life counseling. Death panel? Really? Come on. End of life counseling is a great thing. It is greatly needed in this country. As I understand it, end of life counseling in no way precludes someone from getting care but it does make sure that a person making decisions has all the information.

Bank bailout/ Wall Street bail out. Let's call 'em what they are, shall we? Redistribution of wealth and class warfare.

Middle class. Who is middle class? Does anyone know? Working class? Upper class? Lower class? Poor? Apparently everyone is middle class these days. But they aren't. Can we have some honesty here and acknowledge that the USA has a large number of poor people and working class people and these folks are struggling?

GM Bailout. This was no bailout. This was a government takeover of a privately-owned business, and it is the reason why Toyota has been appearing before Congress.

USA PATRIOT ACT. This is a good example of giving something an acronym or name when it really means something else. The name implies this Act is good for America and anyone who opposes it is unpatriotic (which is a really bad thing to be in this country). In reality, this thing took away rights, allowed the government to peek at the books you check out in the library, and went a long way towards creating the climate of police state that we now have here.

Iraq War, Afghanistan War. Are these really wars, or are they police actions? Are they police actions, or are they grabs for oil? Why are we there, really? Can we have a little truth?

Terrorist/Terrorism. This is a word that has lost its meaning for me because it has so many meanings. I think the folks who throw rocks through government windows or slash gas lines of brothers of folks in Congress are domestic terrorists. Militant Christians can terrorize just as well as a Muslim. We need new descriptions.

NIMBY. The Not-in-My-Back-Yard acronym angered me recently when someone used it with me. It is a pejorative used to immediately imply that those opposing an issue are wrong and have no reasons for opposition other than "because."

Pro-life, Pro-abortion. The left lost this one when the right adopted a "pro-life" stance and the media continued to use it. NPR just issued a new policy that will remove the use of these words from its language on the radio and in its writing. They will use abortion rights advocates and abortion rights supporters. Many folks in the comments at the link are objecting to these changes, mostly from the right. To their mind saying "abortion rights" implies that NPR is leftest and supporting abortion rights. I guess the commentators could get even more ungainly and say "those who support lack of choice when it comes to abortion" "those in favor of choice when it comes to abortion" or something. I am not arguing this issue so please don't take me to task for it; I'm not stating my thoughts on the issue but on the language used to describe the issue. I am not publicly saying where I stand on this as it is no one's business but my own.

What are other language uses today that are torturing and twisting the tongue and bruising the mind as we try to understand one another?

What can we do to speak clearer and say what we mean?

Do we really want to be messaged to death instead of understanding?


  1. Amen! Truer words were never written. I'm sick to death of the phrase "social justice." It leads people to believe it's some sort of "do good unto your neighbor" religious thing when in reality it's all about socialism. The headlines have been full of it lately!

  2. Do good to your neighbour is socialism. There's nothing in socialism that doesn't come straight from the miracle of the five loaves and five fishes. Those who can help give to those who need help, and if everyone acts this way, there is enough to round for everyone. Socialism is social justice. It's no wonder that the right hates it, but why everyone else should go along baffles me.

  3. Semantics, schemantics. Call it like it is. Great post.

    And I would have to agree with Amy on the whole "social justice" thing...there was nothing in the loaves/fishes story about supporting your brother for life because he can't/won't support himself. That was simply a miracle of provision for that particular time and place....Jesus didn't merely take one meal and redistribute it...he multiplied it so it would serve everyone.

  4. Great post. I believe phrases that distort the meaning are promoted on purpose. They are used to confuse and mislead us.

  5. Interesting post! I agree with Lori's comment. Socialism is a political theory/movement. This definition does not fit to "doing good to your neighbor". That is simply loving your neighbor as yourself... which is what God commands us to do, not something to be demanded and enforced by a government.
    I've been trying to find a clear definition of abortion on the web but they all include the words killing or death. Talk about semantics...

  6. It's interesting to think about how some euphemisms were created for altruistic reasons---to spare people's feelings, but others were created specifically to mislead or confuse. Legalese, for example. I can never understand what the legal jargon words in most small print mean, and I'm sure that's just what the lawyers wanted. Of course, one of the problems with this country is the fact that so many politicians are lawyers.


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