I was just tooling around, surfing through my usual list of news and commentary sources, when I found this piece:
I first noticed that the Democrats had shanghaied control of our language when the phrase “Global Warming” began to disappear. It was replaced almost overnight with ‘Climate Change,’ mostly because we had had several winters where it was, unsurprisingly, cold. Rather than rock their narrative, the Left merely rebranded Global Warming. It was certainly easier than admitting they were wrong. Plus, now anything could be attributed to climate change, be it a tornado in the plains or a hurricane in the gulf. Even good news meteorologically could be painted as bad with this new phrase. Naturally, this twist of our language was reinforced by the mainstream media, which quickly adopts the phrase du jour and adds it to its liberal lexicon.
The Left has seized the English language and is using it as a club to pummel non-conformers. Conservatives allowed this to happen. After all, it seems innocent enough. Who cares what people refer to things as? Why debate something as mundane as the words we use?
We all should be concerned because control of language is still a form of control.
I was torn between exultation – “Glory be to God! Someone else has finally noticed! — and scorn – “Oh, really? What was your first clue?” – but decided to set both reactions aside in favor of a fresh rant about precision in language. I haven’t done one in a while, so why not?
Take notes. You might find something to adjust in your speech patterns.
First up, have a few words that are brutally misused or overused:
There are others. Those are just the ones that come to mind at the moment.
I roasted “normal” a while back. The problem with it is essentially connotative; far too often it’s taken to mean “harmless, and therefore acceptable.” But it doesn’t mean that at all. Consider that smoking was for many generations considered “normal,” meaning that it was commonplace enough to be unexceptional. It was never harmless, even back when “everybody” smoked.
As for “literally,” I have a beloved colleague who had a T-shirt made up bearing the statement:
People who misuse
I could only applaud.
Concerning “emergency,” the abuse here is largely political. Politicians are fond of “emergency” talk, because it commands immediate attention. It also suggests that there’s no time to lose! Immediate action is required…even if we don’t quite know what we’re doing or, for that matter, what the “emergency” really is. When you hear politicians speak of “emergency” or “crisis” conditions, it’s a time for sharp questions:
- How many people are affected, and how badly?
- Do your proposed countermeasures work? How do you know?
- What are the foreseeable consequences? Might they make matters worse?
- What development or change in conditions would tell us that the “emergency” is over?
Often, the “emergency” is just that the politician feels his poll numbers slipping.
The COVID-19 virus was styled an “emergency” situation, remember? It turned out to have a survivability of 99.7%, with the great majority of the fatalities occurring among the elderly and those already morbidly afflicted – the same groups that are most endangered by ordinary influenza. Need I say more?
Next up is a phrase that has always made me cringe: “track record.” These days we frequently hear people speak of their “track records” at this or that. It’s as if they were thoroughbred horses, when in fact they’re often not even thoroughbred people.
The phrase “track record” should be reserved for a record of victories or defeats in competition. Most of us compete over very little; dart tossing or the Friday evening poker game, perhaps. Successes at performing the tasks of one’s occupation are nearly never victories over anything. Certainly they’re not victories over nature and its laws. So who were you competing against, and for what stakes, and did you win, place, or show?
The phrase should be relegated to the dustbin. Speak of your record, when no legitimate implication of winning or losing is possible.
For today’s final helping of lexical bile, let’s talk about verbal inflation.
Many people have started speaking solely in superlatives. There’s no longer “good” or “bad,” only “the greatest” and “the worst.” Sometimes the inflation is by means of adverbial intensifiers: “very,” “totally,” “extremely,” “supremely,” and the like. Young women are particularly prone to this fault. Have a snippet from a recent novel, in which a mother is teaching her teenage son about how girls his age speak and behave:
“They’re also very animated when they talk, very expressive. OK things are really good; good things are great. Great things are the best in the world. The opposite is also true; less than ok things are really bad. Bad things are horrible. Horrible things are the worst in the world. Little things are important; important things are life and death.”
This is painfully accurate.
A deceased friend, irked by the proliferation of superlatives, started rewording promotional slogans to omit them:
- “Arguably one of the novels of the Romantic Era.”
- “Perhaps the movie of our time.”
- “See some of America’s actors onstage!”
The effect was striking, to say the least.
I have a pre-release checklist for my books. One mandatory step is to scan for the use of “very” and related intensifiers. It’s far too easy to overuse them. Some writers would lose 10% or 15% of the word count of their novels if all the intensifiers were removed. You’d think they were being paid by the word. Perhaps some of them were.
Whenever I light off on this subject, the feedback will include questions such as “Why are you so wound up about this language crap? What does it matter, as long as we can make ourselves understood?” To some, I suppose that’s all that matters. But over seven decades of study, speech, and writing, I’ve noticed that persons who speak and write precisely, in definite and unambiguous terms, get more respect and attention than those whose diction is sloppy-casual or polluted by verbal fads. You don’t have to be “high-flown,” adept in the use of all manner of exotic words and phrases, to win distinction. All it takes to stand out is precision – and standing out verbally is a first-class method for drawing attention to one’s other abilities and achievements.
Draw the moral.