Tag: general semantics

“War” or “defense”? Propaganda and the value of repetition

“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.

“The goals migrated:” malicious obfuscation in political speech  

It's all too rare that political speech comes off as anything but "blah." It doesn't have to be that way.

Political speech relies on verbal manipulation, one prominent example: impersonal expressions which avoid 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?”

George Will

When I listen to or read the speech of the people who represent the government and the military-industrial complex, I hear 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.

“Critical Race Theory,” Part II: Where are the linguists?

Some of the many aspects of linguistics

Linguistics consists of many sub-disciplines, all devoted to the study of language.

“Linguistics is virtually invisible to most people…”

— Roger Shuy, Language Crimes, 1996

“Critical Race Theory” is not going away.  Although the slogan is heard almost everywhere in academia and education, almost no one inquires into what it actually means in practice.

It means a lot of different things, which is a good thing for its adherents and practitioners because, they can do anything they want in the name of this impressive- sounding undertaking.

On “semantic games” and “infrastructure”

What is a language?

A language is a vast, amorphous consensus among its users as to how words are equivalent to each other and associated with our subjective and objective worlds.

 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, Through the Looking Glass

There is nothing “mere” about semantics!

The language of Fox News: Two views

From mind to thought (and from there to the speech and auditory organs)
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‘Why can’t human beings live simply and naturally?’  The trouble is that, as Susan K. Langer has said, ‘The symbol-making function is one of man’s primary activities. . .It is the fundamental process of the mind, and it goes on all the time.’

S.I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action

 

If you are on a continuous search to be offended, you will always find what you are looking for, even if it isn’t there.

Bill Kellogg

 

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.