Category: semantics and persuasion

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.

“Alternate facts”: Latest language crime

Politicians commit various language abuses considered “BS.” “Alternate facts” is the latest.

 

You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.  (Daniel Patrick Moynihan)

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. (attrib. James Madison)

Just the facts, ma’am.  (Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday, Dragnet)

Overwhelmed by political BS

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).

On baby talk and language change

Kinds of lingo

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.

William Safire

 

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.

Words, maps, territories, and the political abuse of language

 

From mind to thought (and from there to the speech and auditory organs)
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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

Dear Editor,

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.

The weaponization of language

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. 1. Hate speech and fighting words

Linguist looks at 2nd Amendment

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.

Push-words, Part II: The power of Push

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.

The most persuasive words in the language

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.