Efforts to control through language are rampant in the US. Everyone takes offense at everything, and the offended exact real-world reprisals. This category will contain articles around the theme that they’re just words, requiring no physical reprisals — and no safe spaces or other absurd accommodations.
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)
“There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
— George Orwell
“Titles are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title.”
I admit, they had me. I really thought that Jill Biden was an MD. It’s not implausible that such a high-level official as the VP would have a high-achieving wife. But then the truth came out, and I realized I’d fallen for “doctor-flaunting.”
There are implicit and subtle sociolinguistic principles that govern the public use of doctor (this list excludes all the countless hucksters and quacks who have bestowed the spurious title “doctor” on themselves):
One of the countless slogans by which we live.
“Man is a creature who lives not upon bread alone, but primarily by catchwords”
-Robert Louis Stevenson
(NOTE: a catch-word is technically what we today would call a “pull-out quote”; I’m using it in a broader sense here, to refer to slogans, mottoes, taglines, and catch-words.)
I keep quoting Stevenson because his observation is so true and has been for a long time. We love slogans even more than we love narratives and conspiracies…because slogans are the verbal equivalent of Paxil and Wellbutrin. They encapsulate whatever some leader or group of people decides is the best summary of what the product, movement, party, etc., is all about, while they make us feel good about it.
Written language contains many information signals beside letters and numbers. Here are a few.
A period is to let the writer know he has finished his thought and he should stop there if he will only take the hint. Art Linkletter, A Child’s Garden of Misinformation (1965)
To a generation of children who are trained to be sensitive to an ever-increasing body of words deemed offensive because of their perceived meanings, who are “triggered” by these words and need “safe spaces,” it is, for the P.c., just a small jump from reading new meanings into words…to reading new meanings into marks of punctuation.
A grammar book from the 1870’s shows language changing and sheds light on a contemporary language controversy.
Many languages. . .have no gendered pronouns. English needs a gender-neutral singular pronoun, and as Winston Churchill said about democracy as a form of government, “they” is the worst option, except for all the others.
-Anne Fadiman, Harper’s, August 2020
Language changes, perhaps in response to social pressure or a communicative need – or for no functional reason at all, as with hone in on replacing home in on, mainly, I guess, because the two sound alike, hone connotes focus and sharpness, and people forget what the home in home in on means.
Gender-neutral “they”: Let it start here full post
(1435 words, 1 image, estimated 5:44 mins reading time)
Politically correctness attacks the teaching of English. Be afraid.
Be very afraid..
“The truth is what most people believe. And they believe that which is repeated most often.”
“[The English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts… if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
Who dares to be the red person in a sea of blue think-alikes?
“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.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
— Lewis Carroll
“Offending and being offended are now the twin addictions of our society.”
— Martin Amis
Homonyms are words that sound alike but have different meanings.
Being inoffensive and being offended are now the twin addictions of our society.
Corona beer? Coronavirus? What do they have to do with each other? Absolutely nothing. They’re homonyms – multiple meanings for the same sequence of sounds. The English language is full of them, but only a few cause trouble, by which I mean they become infected with a “political virus.”
I would not want to attend the panicky meetings going on inside the walls of the marketers of Corona® beer. The bugaboo of the current news cycle is the supposed connection between the worrisome coronavirus and the beer of the same name.
Gender politics pervades language, and it’s getting even harder to know what’s “correct.”
Tens of thousands of years have elapsed since we shed our tails, but we are still communicating with a medium developed to meet the needs of arboreal man. . . We may smile at the linguistic illusions of primitive man, but may we forget that the verbal machinery on which we so readily rely, and which our metaphysicians still profess to probe the Nature of Existence, was set up by him, and may be responsible for other illusions hardly less gross and not more easily eradicable?
Pronouns and gender politics full post
(1188 words, 1 image, estimated 4:45 mins reading time)
Politically incorrect speech is neither red nor blue. It is red, while and blue. It is American. Repression of speech leads to repression of thought.
This is a message that the p.c. crowd — in the media, in the universities – needs to hear again and again, because they don’t get it, especially when a Presidential candidate (Warren) announces “her” pronouns on the debate stage, and a teacher is fired for not using the student’s preferred pronouns. It is not enough, the argument goes, to have pronouns of two genders, when there are so many other genders. We need more pronouns!
Stop the pronoun craziness full post
(1290 words, 1 image, estimated 5:10 mins reading time)
Code-switching can be used in the service of pandering, as when Presidential candidates lapse into Spanish to win favor in the cheapest manner.
Spare me the sight / of this thankless breed, these politicians / who cringe for favors from a screaming mob / and do not care what harm they do their friends / providing they can please a crowd!
Euripides, Hecuba (c. 425 BCE)
This post introduces my Blahblahblah Award, bestowed upon the politician using the most devious and manipulative language since…well, since the previous award. The grinding Presidential race will continue for many months, so there should be plenty of material.
Code-switching and pandering – a new low full post
(671 words, 1 image, estimated 2:41 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.