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The Left's Hijacking of the English Language
The Spectator ^ | 30 August 2002 | Daniel Hannan

Posted on 08/29/2002 7:13:07 PM PDT by Tomalak

Last week I heard a BBC correspondent refer en passant to ‘right-wing elements’ in Iran who were sympathetic to the Taleban. And why not? ‘Right-wing elements’, after all, has simply become a handy term meaning ‘baddies’. Never mind that the Iranians in question want to confiscate private property and nationalise the means of production. The fact that they have lined up with Mullah Omar means that they can be neatly bracketed with Israeli hard-liners, Stalinist nostalgics, Timothy McVeigh, Eugene Terre Blanche, the BNP, the Tory party and any other ‘right-wing elements’ that threaten the BBC’s world-view.

When you hear such terminology, you realise the extent of the task facing the Conservatives. The very grammar and vocabulary of the English language is beginning to militate against them. The past two decades have seen a semantic shift which has made it almost impossible to express right-wing ideas without sounding faintly disreputable.

It was, I am told, Thucydides who first pointed out the importance of language in winning ideological battles. But it was George Orwell who brought the concept to a wider audience. In an appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell discussed how an idea could be made literally unthinkable if there were no proper words to express it. The illustration he gave was the word ‘free’. In Newspeak, free could be used only in the sense of ‘this field is free from weeds’, ‘this dog is free from lice’. Thus, the concept of political freedom disappeared, because no one could put it into words.

Looking back, it was an uncannily prescient example to have chosen. For in recent years this is more or less what has happened to the word ‘free’. To Orwell, writing in 1948, ‘freedom’ still had its traditional meaning of a guarantee against coercion: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly or whatever. Since then, however, ‘freedom’ has come to mean ‘entitlement’: ‘freedom to work’, ‘freedom to use the NHS’, ‘freedom from discrimination’, and so on. Thus, the notion that the state ought not to boss us around becomes harder to convey, and the politician who supports that notion is disadvantaged.

A similar recalibration of meaning has been at work throughout our political debate. ‘Greed’ now means low taxes, while ‘compassion’ means high taxes. ‘Fairness’ means state-enforced equality, while ‘unfairness’ means an individual’s right to better himself. Any discussion of the relationship between government and citizen is perforce conducted in loaded terms. You can still make the case for greater liberty, but not without sounding rather nasty. A brief glossary will give some indication of what I mean.

Investment: public spending. Any lingering trace of the original meaning — that is, of assets producing some kind of return —was obliterated during the 1990s. The beauty of the word, from the Left’s point of view, is its flexibility. Almost any financial settlement can be described as ‘under-investment’, in the sense of being a smaller settlement than someone, somewhere would have liked. By the same token, any public spending that took place between 1979 and 1997 can be covered by the phrase ‘Tory cuts’: ‘cuts’, again, meaning a smaller increase than had been demanded.

Discrimination: being unpleasant to women or black people. Literally, of course, discrimination simply means discernment. It is something we practise every time we decide between alternatives. But its political undertones have spilled over into every usage of the word, so that discrimination, in any context, becomes discreditable. A firm that discriminates in favour of properly qualified applicants, or a university that insists on good A-level results, cannot wholly escape the sense that it is doing something dirty.

Community: the state — or, more precisely, the state’s bureaucracy. The one thing it emphatically doesn’t mean is a voluntary association of individuals. When people talk of ‘involving the community’, they invariably want more legislation.

Family values: hilarious escapade involving a Tory MP. In fact, even the phrase Tory MP is taking on comical connotations. Mention it in front of, say, the audience of Have I Got News for You and you’re guaranteed an appreciative titter.

Xenophobia: opposition to the euro. By a curious inversion, you demonstrate your broadmindedness by continuing to support the EU, however illiberal or undemocratic it becomes, but condemn yourself as a bigot if you value the independence of other countries. Xenophobia (or ‘Euro-phobia’) has nothing to do with whether you feel comfortable with other cultures. As Neil Kinnock recently told this magazine, sceptics don’t stop being xenophobes ‘just because they happen to speak fluent Catalan or whatever’. The only way to escape the charge is to proclaim your support for the Brussels institutions.

Profit: always a bad thing, but the severity of the term varies according to context. When talking about a supermarket, it simply means greed and exploitation (as in ‘excessive profits’). When discussing trains, however, it means homicidal tendencies, and is thus used as an antonym to safety —which, of course, means more regulation.

Dogmatic: believing in free markets, as in ‘the Tories have a dogmatic attachment to the private sector’. Curiously enough, this is almost precisely the opposite of the old sense. Being dogmatic used to mean believing in something against the evidence. In fact, free enterprise is utterly counter-intuitive: you’d think that a planned economy would be much more efficient than one where everyone was left to do their own thing higgledy-piggledy. But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the market works in practice. The truth, as Matt Ridley has put it, is that privatisation is not a dogma but a pragma.

Prejudice: hating other people. In its literal sense, prejudice simply means pre-judging a new situation on the basis of past experience. If you see an expensively dressed man, your prejudice tells you that he is likely to be well-off. If a politician rings your doorbell, your prejudice tells you that he is probably after your vote. As Edmund Burke argued in his Reflections on the French Revolution, life would become intolerable if we had to think everything through from first principles. But the anathematisation of the word also touches its original meaning. If your common sense tells you that we should be a self-governing country, or that longer sentences would cut crime, or that we seem to be treating the IRA very gently, that is because you are prejudiced.

Public: owned by the state. The original sense of ‘open to the public’ has been almost entirely lost. The gradual elision from the older meaning into the newer has huge political implications. The idea that ‘public transport’ should be operated by private contractors naturally strikes people as anomalous. Ditto ‘public health’ and ‘public education’. Public schools were originally so called to distinguish them from private tutors. Yet that sense has become so archaic that they are now often referred to in print as ‘public (i.e. private) schools’.

Tax cuts: squalid public services. For some reason, talk of tax cuts makes us think not of our tax returns but of our local hospitals. It’s not so much that we believe that there is a direct link between spending and performance; it’s just that the phrase ‘tax cuts’ automatically conjures up a series of images in our minds: leaky school roofs, bodies lying on trolleys in corridors, and pin-striped Tory spivs selling off the playing fields to their friends in the City (see Profit).

Free speech: support for racists. We have been told so often that ‘free speech can never be used as an excuse for racism’ that the two things have become conflated in our minds. Arguing for the first automatically opens you to the accusation of supporting the second. If you think that I exaggerate, cast your mind back to the case of the pensioner in Liverpool who was charged with ‘racially aggravated criminal damage’ after scrawling ‘Free speech for England’ on a condemned wall.

Conservative: Neanderthal. An even more useful term than ‘right-wing elements’ (qv) since it can be applied to both sides in the same conflict. IRA ‘conservatives’ don’t want to disarm, while ‘conservative elements within Unionism’ don’t want to share power with Catholics.

In such a climate, it is difficult for the ‘Conservative’ party, which is ‘right-wing’, and which favours ‘tax cuts’ and the rest of it, to make its case. People’s ears are simply not primed to appreciate the cadences of the Tory message. The very words Conservatives use condemn them as heartless blimps before they’ve even started setting out their arguments. What, then, should they do?

A possible solution is to learn from George W. Bush. He, too, found the rules of the game rigged against him. So he simply kicked the board over and insisted on playing a different game. If he had to call himself compassionate, fine. But he was going to use the word to mean private virtue, not higher taxes, and he was going to harp on about it until people started to take him at his word. And if the Washington media wouldn’t co-operate, he would find other ways to get the message across: independent radio stations, small local newspapers, the Internet.

The redefinition of words doesn’t always have to happen in a leftward direction. During the 1980s Tories managed to traduce the word ‘socialism’ to the extent that almost no serious politician today will accept the label. But these things do not happen by accident. Reclaiming the vocabulary will require a sustained and gruelling campaign, in which the Tory party itself will play just one part.

This is not natural terrain for Conservatives. They are not especially familiar with works by Gramsci and Derrida. But if they want to recapture their countrymen’s attention, they must first reclaim the English language.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events; Philosophy; Politics/Elections; United Kingdom
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A number of people mentioned in another thread how the Left had ensured that certain words meant something totally different than they used to, so I thought I'd post this great piece.

1 posted on 08/29/2002 7:13:07 PM PDT by Tomalak
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To: Tomalak
See "And to the Republic for Which it Stands... "Here"
2 posted on 08/29/2002 7:31:33 PM PDT by BADJOE
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To: Tomalak; Diddle E. Squat; Sabertooth; section9; Poohbah; Congressman Billybob; JohnHuang2; ...
Great find, Tomalak.

This lends more weight to some thoughts I've been having. Check this out. I've thought that when we on the Right argue in favor of the Constitution, we're actually helping the Left today destroy it.

Play with that for a bit and see if you can find my logic in that.

And this is to the rest of you, as well. You're some of the sharper ones. Find my logic here.

3 posted on 08/29/2002 7:35:27 PM PDT by rdb3
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To: rdb3
I think you forgot to add the hyperlinks. :)
4 posted on 08/29/2002 7:37:53 PM PDT by Tomalak
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To: Tomalak
Well, I think this has a lot to do with the very nebulous nature of the word 'right-winger'.. I'd think if we don't like being called that, perhaps we ought to seek our a label that more accurate describes us. Constitutionalist, libertarian, Christian conservative, free-marketer... take yer pick. They're all better (IMO) labels than "right-winger" because they're all more descriptive.
5 posted on 08/29/2002 7:38:20 PM PDT by AM2000
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I liked your piece in your linkn, BAD. Now take a swing at my #3.
6 posted on 08/29/2002 7:38:28 PM PDT by rdb3
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To: rdb3

linkn link.

It's been a long day.

7 posted on 08/29/2002 7:40:05 PM PDT by rdb3
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To: rdb3
8 posted on 08/29/2002 7:45:54 PM PDT by BADJOE
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To: Tomalak
I like to discriminate and am quite prejudice towards certain things. I'm evil.
9 posted on 08/29/2002 7:56:22 PM PDT by Bogey78O
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To: Tomalak
Dennis Prager wrote a great column on this subject. Not on line, unfortunately.
10 posted on 08/29/2002 7:57:23 PM PDT by aculeus
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To: JanL
I thought you might like this article.
11 posted on 08/29/2002 8:11:48 PM PDT by Dakmar
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To: Tomalak
Excellent article.
12 posted on 08/29/2002 8:19:58 PM PDT by Scott from the Left Coast
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To: aculeus
>>Dennis Prager wrote a great column on this subject. Not on line, unfortunately.<<

Gee, sometimes it helps to be a packrat. I just happened to have Prager's article handy on my HD. Here it is:

This article came from the Wall Street Journal.

By Dennis Prager

Editor's Note: Many times we are acutely conscious of the theory of evolution in the natural sciences and abhor it. But how well do we understand that evolution as a methodology permeates and undermines many areas of life. Language is purposed as a tool to create meaningful, stable and understandable communication in the human race. When evolution in language occurs, the result is a distortion of communication and comprehension. You may mean one thing and your hearer another. A good term is "doublespeak." The following article is representative of how words, not just cleverly used or given a novel meaning, but distorted and abused, are shaping our worldviews, unconsciously.

A political way of thinking has so permeated the American consciousness that it has changed the way in which we use English.

Below, a lexicon that shows how certain words are used by major American newspapers, by the electronic news media (especially television), and by many individuals in public and private debate.

CONSERVATIVE: A person with selfish motives.

LIBERAL: A person with altruistic motives. (N.B.: In 11 years of doing talk radio, I never once spoke to a liberal who believed that a person who voted for Ronald Reagan or George Bush could be motivated by altruism. Republicans, by definition, "vote with their pocketbooks.")

ULTRA-CONSERVATIVE: A person who is too conservative.

ULTRA-LIBERAL: Term not used. One cannot be too liberal. (N.B.: I read six newspapers a day, and countless journals. I have never encountered the term "ultra-liberal" or "arch-liberal." I read or hear about "ultra" or "arch-conservatives" all the time.)

CHRISTIAN RIGHT: Contemptible people who always try to impose their values on other Americans.

LIBERALS: Idealistic people who never try to impose their values on other Americans. (N.B.: When Christians try to put their values into law---for example, preventing government funds from going to what even most liberals would consider to be obscene art---they are attacked for trying to impose their values on others. However, when liberals pass laws reflecting their values---e.g., forcing states to allow gay and lesbian couples the same right to adopt children as married couples---that is not regarded as imposing values, but simply the right thing to do.)

ABORTION: A form of birth control.

WOMEN'S RIGHTS: Supporting the right to destroy a human fetus for personal convenience.

ANIMAL RIGHTS: Opposing the right to destroy a rabbit for cancer research. (N.B.: In our time, the intellectual and moral norm is to regard a baby seal as of infinitely more worth than a human fetus.)

FETUS: An unborn baby that is to be aborted.

BABY: An unborn baby that is not to be aborted. (N.B.: When a woman is pregnant and wants to give birth, no one asks her, no matter how early in the pregnancy, "So, how's the fetus doing?" We only use the term "fetus" when we plan to destroy it. Otherwise we use "baby" from the first day of pregnancy.)

WOMAN, AUTHENTIC: A woman who holds liberal views.

WOMAN, INAUTHENTIC: A woman who does not hold liberal views. (N.B.: Gloria Steinem called Texas Senator Kay Baily Hutchinson a "female impersonator" (USA Today, June 11, 1993). Ms. Hutchinson is a conservative Republican.)

CENSORSHIP: The refusal of the government to fund a radical artist. (N.B.: Censorship was always understood as the prohibition of expression. According to the arts community and its supporters, however, "censorship" now means governmental refusal to fund a work of art.)

CENSORS: Christians who boycott violent TV shows.

SOCIAL ACTIVISTS: Hollywood actors who boycott Colorado.

HITLER YOUTH: People who, among other terrible things, drowned out liberal speakers with whom they disagreed and destroyed liberal newspapers with which they disagreed.

PROGRESSIVE STUDENTS: People who, among other good things, drown out conservative speakers with whom they disagree and destroy conservative newspapers with which they disagree. (N.B.: Thus, the progressive students who stole all copies of the conservative paper at the University of Pennsylvania were exonerated, and the guards who stopped them were chastised for interfering in a student protest.)

THE SOVIET UNION (before its fall): An alternative system of government tht should not be condemned with such Cold War labels as "evil empire."

THE SOVIET UNTION (after its fall): An evil empire. (N.B.: Since the fall of the Soviet Union, nearly everyone now speaks of communism in the terms that "Cold Warriors" used.)

RELIGIOUS EXTREMIST: A person who is too religious, usually meaning that the person holds traditional religious beliefs and is politically active.

SECULAR EXTREMIST: Term not used. One cannot be too secular. (N.B.: Those who call for the right to mention God's name in high-school graduation exercises are religious extremisis, while those, like the American Civil Liberties Union, who litigate against schools that post the Ten Commandments on their walls are never described as secular extremists.)

SEXIST: A man who disagrees with women who hold liberal views. (For the term for a woman who disagrees with women who hold liberal views, see "Woman, Inauthentic.") (N.B.: This is why Senator Edward Kennedy, one of the most notorious womanizers in American public life, is never called sexist. He doesn't disagree with liberal women's groups. However, men who treat women beautifully and respect them as equals, but do not agree with the National Organization for Women, are sexist.)

TOLERANCE: Openness to all ideas on the left.

RAGE: The excuse for violence committed against innocent people by members of the aggreved minority. (N.B.: Since the thugs who terrorize Turkish immigrants in Germany are white, their actions are never understood in terms of rage, only condemned (correctly) as thuggery. But when black thugs terrorized Korean immigrants in Los Angeles, their actions were constantly understood in terms of their "rage.")

VICTIMS: Nearly all blacks and women, but essentially members of every group except white heterosexual males. The group must also be associated with liberal activism. (N.B.: Thus, Korean-Americans, though the primary victims of the Los Angeles riots, are never referred to as victims; they hold conservative views.)

IDEAL FAMILY: Any unit of people. (N.B.: To define the ideal family as a married mother and father with children is to be intolerant and judgemental.)

PROGRESSIVE VIEW OF HUMANITY: Dividing people by their race, gender and class.

REACTIONARY VIEW OF HUMANITY: Dividing people by their values and behavior.

BLACKS (AUTHENTIC): Blacks who hold liberal views---in particular, that America is racist and that racism is the greatest black problem.

BLACKS (INAUTHENTIC): Blacks who do not hold liberal views---especially if they hold that America is not racist and that racism is not the greatest black problem. Such blacks also are known as Uncle Toms.

RACISM: See "White Racism."

RACIST: A white who does not agree with a position held by the civil rights leadership. (N.B.: To cite one of the innumerable examples, a number of black leaders have labeled support for school vouchers as racist, even though school vouchers tend to be supported more by inner-city blacks than by white suburbanites. But since the liberal black leadership is opposed to vouchers, support for it is racist.)

WHITE RACISM: Redundant term.

BLACK RACISM: Term not used. It does not exist---an idea perpetrated by white racists.

POVERTY: The reason for murder, rape and carjackings.

GREED: The reason for embezzlement, insider trading and other white-collar crimes.

MINORITIES: Members of groups whose spokespeople are angry at America. Thus, Cuban-, Japanese-, Korean-, and Jewish-Americans are rarely referred to as minorities.

COMMUNITY: A term created in order to imply that members of a victimized group all hold the same (liberal) views.

CIVIL-RIGHTS ORGANIZATION: Organizations that hold white people responsible for the majority of black's problems.

FEMINIST ORGANIZATIONS: Organizations that hold men responsible for the majority of women's problems.

'"BLAMING THE VICTIM": Making moral demands of any member of a victimized minority. (see "Victims")

Mr. Prager writes ULTIMATE ISSUES, a quarterly journal, from which this article is adapted. He hosts a daily talk show on KRLA-870 Radio in Los Angeles.
13 posted on 08/29/2002 8:34:10 PM PDT by Aunt Polgara
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To: aculeus
Actually, I did find just now find Prager's piece online here
14 posted on 08/29/2002 8:37:45 PM PDT by Aunt Polgara
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To: MrChips
Are you still around? I've lost the bookmark to the lexicon thread you started a year or so ago...
15 posted on 08/29/2002 8:42:19 PM PDT by Semaphore Heathcliffe
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To: Tomalak
Excellent, although I must say that I prefer Hannan's developed thoughts to Prager's sarcastic bullet points.

It all confirms what I've been saying for years or decades since first reading Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" in college or maybe earlier, which was assigned by a leftist prof (actually more than one of them!) and which you should find on the Web and read if you haven't.

Language is central to this battle, and, regretably, even here, there are some who will dismiss any suggestion that it is when you dare to point out the pernicious effect of such terms as "gay" or "choice". "Whatever", they'll say, thinking that people should listen to their entire argument against one or the other, and not knowing that people already stopped listening after hearing such positive, affirmative terms. What can you do?!

16 posted on 08/29/2002 9:02:58 PM PDT by Revolting cat!
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To: Tomalak
Good one
17 posted on 08/29/2002 9:06:08 PM PDT by Texas_Jarhead
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To: Tomalak
Let's all be gay, progressive and make a choice, BUMP!
18 posted on 08/29/2002 9:37:55 PM PDT by Revolting cat!
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To: Tomalak
These examples are from British usage, but in the US we can add that a conservative's first name is always 'Arch', and he lives in a 'compound'.
19 posted on 08/29/2002 10:33:21 PM PDT by BlazingArizona
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Great article!!
20 posted on 08/29/2002 10:37:08 PM PDT by BlessingInDisguise
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