This category examines the calculated use of labels (from single words to long, descriptive texts) to reflect and influence the audience’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior. The names and labels we choose tell a lot about us and our agendas. Includes propaganda, disinformation, “fake news,” euphemism, and the deceptive language of advertisers, clerics, and politicians.
“Defense Department” or “War Department”? Repetition breeds acceptance. But what part of America are these soldiers “defending”?
“The truth is what most people believe. And they believe that which is repeated most often.”
Paul Josef Goebbels
The quote is from the man who served as Hitler’s Propaganda Minister and who (BTW, he was a linguist like me, with a doctorate in philology) would today feel quite at home in a PR or ad firm, or at the CIA or a related secret agency, or at one of the big tech companies.
Somewhere in this word cloud is “comment on language abuses in public discourse” and “resist political attempts at language and thought control.”
Nothing happens without language, and in the current social turmoil, one side is blatantly attempting control through language.
Linguists remain silent..
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
- – Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
Political speech relies on verbal manipulation, one prominent example: impersonal language that avoids assigning (or taking) responsibility.
“Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, a retired rear admiral, recently said that during the long U.S. undertaking in Afghanistan ‘the goals did migrate over time.’ Did the goals themselves have agency – minds of their own?”
When I listen to or read the speech of the people who represent the government and the military-industrial complex, I hear impersonal language and, typically, malicious obfuscation. By that I mean that they speak, as bureaucrats and politicians always have, in terms that, because people on the receiving end rarely subject them to critical scrutiny, are accepted at face value, though a moment’s consideration reveals how devious and deceptive they are.
It takes courage and clear thinking to resist the liberal preoccupation with racial/gender preference and language control.
[In George Orwell’s 1984] Syme [a Party official] encourages Winston to recognize that the ‘whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought’. He explains that ‘in the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it.’ Syme refers to the fact that individual thought, rebellious or ‘unorthodox’ thoughts will be impossible and so, too, will the true concept of individual freedom. Each concept will be expressed in just ‘one’ word. Any ‘subsidiary’ meanings will be rubbed out and forgotten. (55).The party controls the mind through the control of language (Newspeak), the control of history (the past) and the control of war/ enemies, [via] the process of DoubleThink.
Latest language crime: “equity” full post
(908 words, 1 image, estimated 3:38 mins reading time)
A demagogue in a red tie spreads his arms in a gesture of love to his followers.
Where the laws are not supreme, there demagogues spring up.
— Aristotle, 4th c. BCE
The people are capable of good judgment when they do not listen to demagogues.
— Napoleon I (1814-5)
Demagogy enters at the moment when, for want of a common denominator, the principle of equality degenerates into a principle of identity.
— Saint-Exupery, 1942
The current chaos begins with words, or as Proverbs 18:21 has it, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”
American chaos: Did Trump incite? full post
(969 words, 1 image, estimated 3:53 mins reading time)
On Jan. 27, 1838, Abraham Lincoln spoke before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, about “the perpetuation of our political institutions.” During that address, he said:
“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
Lincoln’s message: no other nation is strong enough to destroy America. We would do it to ourselves. And it’s happening.
In the interests of political correctness Congress wastes our tax dollars scrubbing gender from its legislation. “Amen” is deemed to contain the offensive “men.” Why don’t other linguists speak out against this insanity?
Amen. < Old English, from ecclesiastical Latin, from Greek amēn, from Hebrew ‘āmēn ‘truth, certainty’, used adverbially as expression of agreement, and adopted in the Septuagint as a solemn expression of belief or affirmation.
[The version I learned in Hebrew School:] The Talmud teaches homiletically that the word amen is an acronym for אל מלך נאמן (ʾEl melekh neʾeman, “God, trustworthy King”), the phrase recited silently by an individual before reciting the Shma. (Wikipedia)
Politicians commit various language abuses considered “BS.” Biden is a prime example.
Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.
Henry Adams, 1907
The politician is an acrobat. He keeps his balance by saying the opposite of what he does.
Maurice Barres (1896-1923)
Political BS, a noxious blend of mendacity, manipulation, and meaninglessnss, is all around us, as it has been ever since we invented politics. So let’s try to understand what it is, the better to identify and resist it (this is knowledge that all middle-school graduates should have, but it is in the interests of the ruling classes that they not have it).
Overwhelmed by political BS full post
(1094 words, 1 image, estimated 4:23 mins reading time)
Linguistics is concerned with who says what to whom, and why. Why do groups of people adopt their own manner of speaking? There are many answers.
Is sloppiness in speech caused by ignorance or apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care.
I admire John McWhorter so much for the breadth of his accomplishments, his accessibility to the media, his eloquent lectures.
I recently saw a video clip in which he pegged Trump’s speech as characteristic of primitive humans just getting their “language chops” together.
On baby talk and language change full post
(1069 words, 1 image, estimated 4:17 mins reading time)
From mind to thought (and from there to the speech and auditory organs)
The truth is what most people believe. And they believe that which is repeated most often.
Paul Josef Goebbels
Here is the text of a letter I sent to the Manchester NH Union-Leader (published 6/21/19):
March 19, 2019
Let me add my voice to the chorus of people outraged by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s comparison of immigrant confinement to concentration camps. This is worse than obscene and ignorant. It is an utterly irresponsible use of language. As a linguist, I am appalled by the deceptive reducing of two vastly different entities to a single point of comparison — confinement.
Our society is divided by many conflicting forces, but two of them are in our face almost all the time, roiling America like the whirling blades of the old MixMaster – and causing just as much confusion.
Both are related to the field in which I was trained – linguistics. Both center on language – not surprising, since language is a multi-purpose tool without which we would not be human.
I think of them as two mega-issues, each with a constellation of sub- and intersecting issues.
1. Hate speech and fighting words
The weaponization of language full post
(1167 words, 1 image, estimated 4:40 mins reading time)
What does the 2nd Amendment really say?
One thing I understand about New Hampshire, after ten years here, is that the state’s bold and famous motto, “live free or die,” refers mainly to the second half of the 2nd Amendment. (NH is the last state in New England to legalize cannabis.)
Analysis of 2nd Amendment
But when we try to read it as a whole, it makes the right to bear arms problematic and equivocal.
The text reads:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Linguist looks at 2nd Amendment full post
(355 words, 1 image, estimated 1:25 mins reading time)
Part II — The Power of Push
From long years of observation, I’ve concluded that most people are not aware of the persuasive power of push-words – or of how blithely and frequently we call upon them. Most people believe that that their (portrayals of the) facts are THE facts.
But serious observers of the language know that when it comes to the matchup of words with reality, there’s very little in the external world, other than the totally mundane, that we can agree on. And many people experience a subjective reality – e.g., religion — that is completely inaccessible to others.
How much would you pay for the most persuasive words in the language? And what do you think they would be? Are there really words that can get people to do anything you want?
Reality check: there are no magic words, and we cannot always get people to do what we want with words alone (though some persuaders are much more successful than others). But there are words that make it more likely.
At an early age, we are taught social forms – please, thank you – that lubricate the mechanisms of getting things done. But the persuasive words I’m about to show you go way beyond politeness. They subtly influence the way the audience sees reality.