26 February 2013


Language is central to our lives as sentient, bipedal, opposable thumbed, social animals.  We communicate using gestures, body language, facial expressions, and by spoken and written language ~ words and phrases which are symbols for a thought, an object, an action.

Language evolves.  I once took a class in Middle English literature, in which the professor insisted that we learn the spellings and pronunciations of the 12th to 15th centuries.  The experience was actually more complex and difficult than my two years studying classical Latin, which is the root of all Romance languages.  Much has changed in 600 years ~ vocabulary, grammar, syntax.

In vocabulary alone, American English has morphed significantly just since the mid-1900s, as social norms, technology, and the influence of other cultures have introduced new words, and new meanings for existing words.  The richness of meanings can lead to ambiguity ~ not inherently a bad thing, since nuance is one of the joys of communication.  Still, it can create the potential for misunderstanding between speaker and listener, writer and reader.

So with these two concepts in mind ~ linguistic evolution and ambiguity ~ Elizabeth Parker proposes that in the realm of political discourse, there are 10 Phrases Progressives Need To Ditch (And What We Can Say Instead).  Her suggestions have little to do with being politically correct (though there is nothing wrong with seeking to minimize offense).  Rather, they seek to shed outdated associations and substitute more accurate ones.  Here is her list of phrases to be airlocked, along with their replacements and the reason for the change~

  1. Big Business.  Instead, try Unelected Government.  "This puts them in their proper context as unelected entities with unprecedented powers, whose actions have immense impact on our lives, and which we are powerless to hold accountable."
  2. Entitlements.  Instead, try Earned Benefits.  "Programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Compensation are all forms of insurance that we pay into all of our working lives ~ via a percentage of our income ~ and then collect from when the time comes."
  3. Free Market Capitalism.  Instead, try Socialized Risk & Private Profits.  "This best describes the dramatically failed experiment in unfettered [unregulated] capitalism, as practiced in the late 20th and early 21st centuries .... an unworkable failure and damaging to society."
  4. Government Spending.  Instead, try Investing in America.  "Because that's what our federal tax dollars do.  They invest in education and infrastructure that wouldn't prove profitable for businesses, but which still benefit society in the long run."
  5. Gun Control.  Instead, try Gun Safety.  "It sounds so nice, non-coercive, and reasonable ~ plus, it's true.  Most of us aren't against guns, we just want them used safely."
  6. Illegal Aliens.  Instead, try Undocumented Residents.  "Why not?  They already do much of what we officially-recognized U.S. citizens do, plus they're having more kids than Anglos are.  Seems like immigration provides an ideal way for us to avoid the demographics crisis hitting Western Europe and Japan."
  7. Pro-Life.  Instead, try Anti-Choice.  "Because that's what they really are all about.  They don't care about 'life' [especially after birth].  They only seek to deny choices to women.  Not just the choice of whether or not to have a child, but whether a woman can ~ like a man ~ embrace her full sexuality without having to worry about pregnancy, and whether she can make related choices about her body, her career,and when to have children, as men always have."
  8. Right-To-Work.  Instead, try Anti-Union.  "It's far more accurate.  In 'right-to-work' states, non-union workers in union shops can decline paying union dues.  Which sounds fair, but is not, because union shops pay better wages to their employees .... 'Right-to-work' really does mean 'right to choose among sucky wages and benefits packages'."
  9. The Environment.  Instead, try Shared Resources.  "We may not care about some factory dumping crap into the ocean, but we dang-well care about our neighbors up the river not properly maintaining their septic tank."
  10. Welfare.  Instead, try Safety Net.  "When people think of a safety net, they're more likely to think of a protection of last resort .... a source of help that's available when we need it, and that we pay for through our taxes .... and one that they can instantly bounce out of.  If we continue to grow the middle class, instead of cutting taxes for the rich and allowing companies to pay sub-living wages, perhaps the latter will be true again."
You can check here to read the full article.  Most of Parker's proposals make sense ~ the only one I take issue with is number 9 ~ The Environment.  If we want to use "the environment" interchangeably with shared resources, that's okay, but suggesting that ocean dumping (or any other destructive activity that is hidden from us) is vaguely acceptable, is myopic.  The larger view is that we DO live in and alter our environment ~ the same environment shared by all other living things.  And that environment WILL come back to bite us if we don't make choices that are forward-thinking, and that protect the planet.  The phrase "shared resources" may be useful to a point, but it fails to take into account the reality that those resources either support other life, or ARE other life.  In either case, we have no right to assume ascendancy.  We are only part of the whole.

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