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Political Lingo: Disavow the Enemy’s Language

Really, how important are the words we use?  Here’s what Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:36 & 37:

But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.

George Orwell’s fine essay, “Politics and the English Language” (1946), attacks pretentious language.  It also undresses political language: “In our time political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”  He despises words that conceal a harsh, ugly reality: “Inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism.  A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details.”

Orwell puts his finger on an aspect of language that you and I use.  “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.  A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.”

In his novel 1984 Orwell introduces us to Big Brother and Newspeak.  When I read the book half a century ago or so, I got a good laugh out of the phrase, “War is Peace.”  But it stopped being funny when our government began referring to soldiers in combat as “peacekeepers.” When the news media picked it up, I knew we were moving into an Orwellian era.

Sadly, Big Brother and his disciples are running rampant today.  Maybe I can do nothing about matters like “tax reforms” that rob the American worker.  But I can stop calling tax schemes “reforms.”  I won’t even accept the label “Fair Tax” until it becomes clear to me that it is not regressive.  As soon as you call it a “Fair Tax,” you have become its advocate.  Don’t think I’m against this particular tax plan: I just won’t call it by a name that removes it from the field of legitimate political argument.  Am I against the Fair Tax?  Have I stopped beating my mother?

Here’s a pair of words I will NOT accept: homophobe and homophobic.  While I neither hate nor fear homosexual persons, I despise the homosexual sex acts.

So what can we do?  What can I do?

I have decided to employ the following tactics:  Whenever someone uses one of these words, I politely say, “Excuse me, but when you say ‘homophobe’ are you denoting a person who hates and fears homosexuals, or are you condemning any person who is disgusted by buggery and such?”

Buggery is carefully chosen.  It is the technically correct term for one type of sodomy.  Most persons who do not practice it are revolted by it.  It is an ugly word, for an ugly practice.  I use this particular word to strip the mask of respectability from the deed, and to repudiate the implication that there is something severely wrong with persons who object to it.  I am against murder; does that make me a murdererphobe?

I use the same technique on other words that are pejorative against what I believe, and words laudatory of what I know is wrong.

In discussions of abortion, when I hear the term fetus, I POLITELY ask, “Do you mean any unborn baby, or just the unborn babies eight weeks or more after conception?”

When someone suggests that there is no God, I politely ask, “Is this the result of studies and experimentation, or is it an article of faith?”

About ten years ago, I was sandbagged by the word “fundamentalist.”  One sandbagging was enough.  In response to an inclusive use of the word, I ask (politely, of course), “Do you mean a fundamentalist Christian who loves everybody, or a fundamentalist Muslim who tries to kill everybody?”

It’s widely understood that if you play a game by your opponent’s rules, the opponent will win.  Just as surely, if you speak with the opponent’s vocabulary, the opponent has already won.  If you show that you are angry, your opponent will happily feel confirmed in the belief that you are a Neanderthal.  It’s better for us to understand how to take the high ground politely.

Any of us can do what I’m doing.  As a contributor to Catholic Lane, I presume that my reader opposes abortion, homosexual practices, and, for example, the secular humanism that would confine Christians to church buildings.  But there are some concepts, and their vocabulary, about which you and I may not see eye-to-eye.  Here are some of the words I don’t like, but you might.  Most of them have become pretty much meaningless as technical terms; they are labels used to elicit approval – or disapproval – from the audience: liberal, conservative, moderate, progressive,, etc.  These words once denoted something, but they have become victims of semantical hijacking.

A century ago, one of my heroes, Theodore Roosevelt, was a Progressive.  In fact, when he ran as a third party candidate, that party, though popularly called the Bull Moose party, was officially the Progressive Party.  But the word has been hijacked, imprisoned, tortured.  Now, when I hear the term used by someone whose political ideals run counter to mine, I ask, “When you say ‘PROGRESSIVE’ do you mean SOCIALIST, COMMUNIST, or simply FASCIST?”  Mea culpa.  I guess I’m not being nice.

But the overriding fact here is that God loves all of us, including the bad guys, so much that he sent his only begotten Son to save as many as would receive him.  Saint Paul reminds us (Romans 5:10), that you and I were once enemies of God, but he reconciled us to himself “through the death of his Son.”  Some of the persons I challenge with questions have already been reconciled to God through Jesus’ blood.  Those who remain unwilling may yet come to him; and it would be wrong for us to lose that hope.  But at the same time we must be on guard lest our thoughts become corrupted by accepting or employing the Great Deceiver’s language.


Theodore Kobernick is a retired Protestant pastor whose wide education includes degrees in English, training in aviation electronics, engineering, real estate, pastoral studies, and Americal history. He has taught English at the University of Washington (Seattle), and various courses in writing at St. Martin's University (near Olympia, WA).  Phi Beta Kappa from Lake Forest College, IL. He and Paula have been married for 35 years; they live in Vancouver, WA.


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  • Theodore Kobernick

    Oh my goodness!

    How could I have failed to discuss the most common of the words that have successfully hijacked?

    Gay.

    The first definition of this word, in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is: “1 Full of, disposed to, or indicating joy and mirth; light-hearted, carefree.”

    What a great word to hijack! What a successful hijacking!.

    There’s no need for me to be nasty about this, so when I encounter the word in conversation, I ask, “Do you mean carefree and happy? Or do you mean homosexual?” Of course I avoid using this word in the sense that the Enemy employs it.

    In their attitude toward society at large, the homosexual community, as a group, fulfill Wm. Butler Yeats’ words in “The Second Coming”: they are not lighthearted; they “Are full of passionate intensity.”

    One fears that this particular abuse of our language has been pulled off successfully because too many of God’s people also fulfill Yeats’s words in the same poem: “The best lack all conviction.” When we timidly acquiesce to the use of this term, we are participating in the corruption of two groups of persons: the great majority who are not homosexual, who need to be alerted to the lie; and homosexual persons themselves, who need to be reminded that their behavior is not acceptable to God or to God’s people.

    • http://www.casorosendi.com/ Carlos Caso-Rosendi

      Way before the new meaning of gay existed the English slang had the word “sod” short for sodomite. It still survives in cockney English even among those who can be described by it.

  • http://www.schefter.org PrairieHawk

    Yes, the word “gay” has been hijacked and indeed destroyed, with anything other than its homosexual connotation lost. We need a new word for happy and carefree. Is there a young man anywhere who would want to be described as “gay”?

  • noelfitz

    TK, you quote Yeats. We are very proud of him in Ireland. His line
    “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;”.

    So as a contribution to poetry here may I add:

    A Bachelor Gay Am I, Though I Suffer From Cupid’s Dart
    but Never I Vow Will I Say Die In Spite Of An Aching Heart
    for A Man Who Has Loved A Girl Or Two Though The Fact Must Be Confessed
    he Always Swears The Whole Way Through
    to Every Girl He Tries To Woo
    that He Loves Her Far The Best:

    And

    Come boys, let’s all be gay boy, for educations should be scientific play, boys.
    Don’t waste your time with books, boys, for every prudent student studies women’s looks.
    When old professors prate, boys, that we will flunk because we’re drunk don’t hesitate.
    Though we get B-minus, it isn’t on account of shyness.
    We cut their classes for their dryness, boys.
    In drinking we will graduate.

  • noelfitz

    Some of my gay friends might like:

    And a child that’s born on the Sabbath day
    is fair and wise and good and gay.

    The last time I saw Paris
    Her heart was warm and gay

    There’s such a charm in melancholy,
    I would not, if I could, be gay.

  • http://www.tell-usa.org Robert Struble, Jr.

    Noelfitz: How about this?

    Sexually Obsessed
    Their life’s pilot resides in the loins;
    Heart, brain, soul, subordinate to the crotch;
    Trumping all desire to think, weigh, watch,
    Or discern and do what wisdom enjoins.

    • Theodore Kobernick

      Robert,

      Thank you for your verses.

      Perhaps homosexuality is a symptom of DESPAIR, a reluctance to procreate, joined with a desperate desire for the joy of the real generative act.

      The condition seems to preclude much joy in being who God created us to be. The first command God gave us was to “be fruitful and multiply [or, increase in number].”

      It appears to me that our nation, with its increasing approval of homosexuality and its murdering by abortion countless millions of babies, is in the process of dying out: to fill the population void, people are pouring into the country from outside our borders — usually people who reproduce normally. God will not be mocked; when we defy him we bring our own punishment upon ourselves. Moreover, unlike us, he has all the time in the world to accomplish his aims. He calls us to repent; but if we won’t . . . . Time’s up!

  • noelfitz

    Robert,

    many thanks for your post.

    Mine were to show ‘gay’ used to refer to ‘happy’ and ‘joyful’ and had no negative connotations.

    I like your poem:

    “To adore Him day and night
    Endures in the Catholic rite.
    February twelfth – my mission:
    Go to church, keep the tradition.”

  • http://www.tell-usa.org Robert Struble, Jr.

    Noelfitz; thanks.

  • noelfitz

    Robert,

    many thanks for your comment.

    This evening I have been reading your Political Science Quarterly article (94, 1979, 649).

    For one not familiar with American history I found it intriguing. The principle of rotation is excellent. I am on some committees that have a limited term for officers and this is healthy.

    I remember that after Nixon resigned it was considered that the Republican party would be banished for a very long time. In fact it was not so.

    In the States in practice in recent years there has been a healthy rotation in the office of President between Republicans and Democrats, as shown below.

    (D) Baruch Obama (2009- )
    (R) George Bush (2001-2009)
    (D) Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
    (R) George H W Bush (1989-1993)
    (R) Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
    (D) N Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
    (R) Gerald Ford (1974-1977)
    (R) Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
    (D) Lyndon Johnson (1963-1069)
    (D) John Kennedy (1961-1963)
    (R) Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961)
    (D) Harry Truman (1945-1953)
    (D) Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945)
    (R) Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)

  • http://www.tell-usa.org Robert Struble, Jr.

    Reelection Motive
    I’m here, said he
    To look out for thee.
    You should savor what I do;
    My departure you would rue.

    So reelect me,
    It’s best, you see
    D.C. I should roam,
    And never go home.

    T’s unkind to say,
    I should go away.
    Don’t be so firm
    As to limit my term.

    Go back you say?
    Beyond the beltway?
    Where people see clearly,
    And earn their bread dearly?

    No! I must abjure
    To become obscure.
    The people to dust!
    Reelection or bust!

    December 2005 issue of “No Uncertain Terms,” (U.S. Term Limits), p. 6.

  • http://www.tell-usa.org Robert Struble, Jr.

    Reelection Motive
    I’m here, said he
    To look out for thee.
    You should savor what I do;
    My departure you would rue.

    So reelect me,
    It’s best, you see
    D.C. I should roam,
    And never go home.

    T’s unkind to say,
    I should go away.
    Don’t be so firm
    As to limit my term.

    Go back you say?
    Beyond the beltway?
    Where people see clearly,
    And earn their bread dearly?

    No! I must abjure
    To become obscure.
    The people to dust!
    Reelection or bust!

    Bob Struble, December 2005 issue of “No Uncertain Terms,” (U.S. Term Limits), p. 6.

  • noelfitz

    Robert, I am delighted that you are here with us. Your contributions are sound, thoughtful and illuminating. Your involvement with your communities and society have been excellent. It is great to have here a responsible person of culture, education and concern.

    Theodore, We are also privileged to have you here. Your insights are constructive. I see you have had a varied and successful career in ministry and business. I hoped you will stay with us and continue to give us insights.

    PH, you and I are old friends and I appreciate your encouragement.

    Carlos, I am grateful to you too. You have been frank with me and I take on board your views. Thanks.

    There are others who are regular contributors to CL, who make this a lively place. With Mary’s leadership the future looks good.

    • Theodore Kobernick

      Noelfitz, I don’t know when you are writing with your tongue in your Irish cheek.

      However, you mentioned in another post that you are a retired chemist, that you heard Pauling, and that you were at Cornell even though you didn’t know which side of the road to drive on. So, did you ever take chem. classes from Sienko & Plane? I still remember them. Great teachers!

      Oh yes, while I was there, someone had a small car with the Latin motto best translated as “This car can park anywhere.” The car would appear parked on lawns, on patios — anywhere that it had to have been carried by (Frat?) guys. Did you ever see that car?

      I lived on Forest Home Drive, by Fall Creek.

      • http://www.schefter.org PrairieHawk

        When I was at Cornell the Chem 207 class was legendary. I took it (got a B+) though I don’t remember the professors’ names. I do recall their use of humor and dramatic props to get their lessons across.

        I heard Linus Pauling too as he gave a guest lecture one day. I remember how impressed I was that he could write out the periodic table from memory.

        I have fond memories of Ithaca, the hills and gorges, the “Ithacating” weather, and the peaceful countryside. Later in my college career my major (soil science) took me out on many field trips to surrounding forests and fields. It’s truly a beautiful and underappreciated part of the country.

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