J and D's Corner

From Our Random Opinions Collection

S. I. HayakawaAnother of my favorite rant subjects....the trashing of our language in the service of politics.   The late semanticist Dr. (& Senator) S. I. Hayakawa was always one of my heroes.  He was the Senator who famously said, in regard to the Panama Canal, "We stole it fair & square, and we should keep it."   He also remarked that  Bilingualism for the individual is fine, but not for a country.”  This from the son of immigrants who himself became a naturalized citizen.

Anyway, here is the subject well addressed by Thomas Sowell in his syndicated column:

The Left Has Its Own Vocabulary  by Dr. Thomas Sowell

A recent angry e‑mail from a reader said that certain issues should not be determined by "the dictates of the market." With a mere turn of a phrase, he had turned reality upside down.

Decisions by people free to make their mutual accommodations with other free people were called "dictates" while having third parties tell all of them what they could and couldn't do was not.

Verbal coups have long been a specialty of the left. Totalitarian countries on the left have called themselves "people's democracies" and used the egalitarian greeting "comrade" -‑ even though some comrades had the arbitrary power of life and death over other comrades.

In democratic countries, where public opinion matters, the left has used its verbal talents to change the whole meaning of words and to substitute new words, so that issues would be debated in terms of their redefined vocabulary, instead of the real substance of the issues.

Words which have acquired connotations from the actual experiences of millions of human beings over generations, or even centuries, have been replaced by new words that wipe out those connotations and substitute more fashionable notions of the left.

The word "swamp," for example, has been all but erased from the language. Swamps were messy, sometimes smelly, places where mosquitoes bred and sometimes snakes lurked.  The left has replaced the word "swamp" with "wetlands," a word spoken in pious tones usually reserved for sacred things.

 The point of this verbal sleight‑of‑hand is to impose the lefts notions of how other people can use their own land. Restrictive laws about "wetlands" have imposed huge costs on farmers and other owners of land that happened to have a certain amount of water on it.

Another word that the left has virtually banished from the language is “bum”.  Centuries of experience with idlers who refused to work and who hung around on the streets making a nuisance of themselves were erased from our memories as the left verbally transformed those same people into a sacred icon, "the homeless.”

As with swamps, what was once messy and smelly was now turned into something we had a duty to protect. It was now our duty to support people who refused to support themselves

Crimes committed by bums are covered up by the media, by verbally transforming "the homeless" into "transients" or "drifters" whenever they commit crimes. Thus “the homeless" are the only group you never hear of committing any crimes.

 More to the point, third parties' notions are imposed by the power of the government to raise our taxes to support people who are raising hell on our streets and in parks where it has often become too dangerous for our children to play.

The left has a whole vocabulary devoted to depicting people who do not meet standards as people who have been denied "access."

Whether it is academic standards, job qualifications or credit requirements, those who do not measure up are said to have been deprived of "opportunity," "rights" or "social justice."

 The words games of the left are not just games. They are ways of imposing power by evading issues of substance through the use of seductive rhetoric.

"Rights," for example, have become an all‑purpose term used for evading both facts and logic by saying that people have a "right" to whatever the left wants to give them by taking from others. 

 For centuries, rights were exemptions from government power, as in the Bill of Rights. Now the left has redefined rights to things that can be demanded from the taxpayers, or from private employers or others, on behalf of people who accept no mutual obligations, even for common decency.

‑Dr. Thomas Sowell is an economist and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute in Stanford, Calif.- 

JW's Added ranting  A major peeve of mine not mentioned by Dr. Sowell is the full-scale hijacking and re-definition of the suffix "-phobic", a term used in the mental health world to indicate an "exaggerated, inexplicable and illogical fear" of something.  The left first popularized the use of the term "homophobic" to describe anyone who was not 100% in favor of all things homosexual.  Now the same technique is again being used throughout the media world with regard to Islam; anyone who has any distaste whatsoever for the excesses of Islam is described as being an "Islamophobic", the objective of this distortion of language being, of course, to imply that all such people are mentally unbalanced, i.e., crazy.   

Dr. Sowell was too nice to get into it, but the politically correct crowd has also gone wild with non-political euphemisms. Take for example “mentally retarded”.  From the relatively mild “disadvantaged” to the totally ridiculous “alternately gifted”, it’s almost a subculture in itself.  "Alternately gifted", although ridiculous and highly annoying, is at least fairly innocuous compared to the examples given above.