The Left’s Terminology Problem

Posted: July 1, 2015 in Language Use, Livin' in the USA, Politics
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by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

The American right has a well-paid, highly effective  spinmeister, Frank Luntz. Luntz is a Fox “News” employee (running focus groups) and Republican campaign adviser  whose job is to invert reality, to come up with words and phrases that make the inherently hideous appear attractive and the inherently attractive appear hideous.  Luntz is good at his job. He’s responsible for such Republican buzzwords as “death tax” (rather than the much more accurate “estate tax”–death is not taxed; inherited wealth is), “government takeover”  (rather than “healthcare reform”–which is curious, as “Obamacare” is a bonanza for the insurance industry and big pharma), and “take from the rich” (rather than “tax the rich”–just as the government taxes the poor, working and middle classes).

Frank Luntz

Frank Luntz

The left has no equivalent of Luntz. Instead, it has effectively half a Luntz: a bevy of anonymous phrase-makers who’ve taken upon themselves the task of making the useful and attractive appear absurd, and making the left appear ridiculous. They do this through inventing new and ever-more-ludicrous terms. The rule seems to be that neologisms and other invented usages must be longer, more awkward, and more imprecise than the terms and phrases they’re designed to displace, with bonus points for transparent euphemisms and for lack of apparent meaning–with additional bonus points for a WTF!? reaction in listeners or readers upon first encountering a term (“cisgender” being a recent example).

At their most innocuous, these words and phrases simply appear silly, alternate spellings of “women” (“womyn,” “wimmin,” “Wymyn,” “wimin,” etc.) and “history” (“herstory”) being examples. One good thing about these terms is that you almost never encounter them except in the most politically correct publications and posts–publications and posts that almost no one reads. Hence, they cause relatively little harm.

The awkward phrases and the euphemisms–they largely overlap–are worse, as they lend themselves to mockery. The first, and still only, “people of” construction to come into common use (at least in the media and among PC types) was “people of color.” The problems with this term have been obvious since it was introduced. On the purely physical side, it’s inaccurate: “white” folks are tan/pink, not white (which technically speaking, as regards light, is a combination of all colors); and “black” folks aren’t black (which technically speaking, again regarding light, is the absence of color). As well, it’s deliberately insulting to white people, implying that they are colorless. Worse, the term is affected and inherently awkward.

If you doubt this, let’s take an example from the field of transportation, where it’s common to refer to “drivers” and “nondrivers.” Recasting this latter term into its politically correct equivalent, you end up with “people of  transport” or something similar.

The other commonly used (in the media and among the PC) euphemisms, “differently”, “challenged,” and (going a step beyond “challenged”) “special,” also lend themselves to mockery. With “people of” you end up with absurdities such as “people of size” (instead of “fat people”–and notice the impreciseness of “people of size”). With “differently” you end up with cringe-worthy euphemisms such as “differently abled” (instead of “handicapped”) and “differently statured” (instead of “dwarf”–though “differently statured”  was probably devised by a jokester, but you never know). “Challenged” could be worse, but again lends itself to mockery–one wit came up with “morally challenged congressperson” rather than “corrupt congressman.” And then there are the “special” constructions, such as “special child” and “special education,” which again are transparent euphemisms, and yet again lend themselves to mockery. As one example, back in the ’90s here in Pima County we had a wingnut Republican county supervisor named Ed Moore, who people routinely referred to as “Special Ed.”

There is one thing to be said for the devisers of the  “special” constructions: they’ve enriched the language through a  new subsidiary meaning of the term “special”–it’s now commonly used as a term of ridicule.

Who are the people who come up with all these affected, awkward, wordy, imprecise, and sometimes deliberately misleading words and phrases? That’s hard to say, but one strongly suspects academic postmodernists. Their contempt for language is well known–in fact, they’re proud of it–and this seems exactly the type of worse-than-useless thing they’d waste their time on. (If you doubt this, read–if you can stand it–any of their works.)

Why would they do they do this? Why would they devise all of these awkward, ridiculous terms? There seem to be two reasons: 1) Like Frank Luntz, they’re attempting to manipulate people through substitution of new, loaded terms for common terms; 2) Some, given their solipsistic “radical subjectivism,” might actually believe that changing referent terms changes underlying reality, for example making “special education” special in a positive sense. (Yes, I’m aware that “radical subjectivism” has another meaning beyond the one used here, and that not all who use the term in that sense are borderline solipsists.)

Still, why would anyone beyond their originators use these awkward politically correct terms? The media is, by and large, deathly afraid of offending anyone, and is hypersensitive about racial terminology (as are PC white liberals, almost all academics–because of anti-free speech witch hunts–and almost all who work in public education). Hence “people of color” is almost universally used in the media and by PC types, while they use none of the other “people of” terms. As for “challenged” and “special,” the same holds. Some rank-and-file leftists also use these terms, but most people don’t.

This points to the primary problem with PC terminology. Like Frank Luntz’s buzzwords, it’s not designed to communicate. It’s not designed to persuade. It’s designed to manipulate. A noxious example of this is the current use of “privileged” in reference to everyday people. This is simply grotesque. It’s akin to calling prisoners in open-topped cells, whose jailers merely spit on them, “privileged” in comparison to prisoners in open-topped cells whose jailers shit on them. The point is that while there are varying degrees of oppression, all are oppressed.

This attempt to manipulate people through guilt is also spectacularly ineffective. Attempting to guilt trip people rarely if ever works; more often it backfires. Telling people who are trapped in jobs they hate, are worried about making the rent or mortgage,  and have been putting off necessary dental care for years that they’re “privileged” is grotesque and insulting. And it drives people away in droves. People hear PC jargon, and they switch off, figuring that those using it are middle class, holier-than-thou assholes–and they’re usually right.

If you want real, fundamental political, economic, and social change, don’t manipulate, don’t guilt trip, don’t use alienating jargon that makes you feel better about yourself (for your “advanced” consciousness). Instead, talk to people about why they’re stuck in jobs they hate; why they’re constantly worried about money; why they’ve been putting off necessary medical and dental care. Talk to them in plain language. Talk to them about their daily lives, the reasons their lives are so hard and stressful, and what we all, collectively, can do about it.

That could lead to real change.



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