Meaning What?

     It’s time for another tirade on clarity in expression. Let’s start with a little George Orwell:

     [O]ne ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.… Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. – From “Politics and the English Language”

     Orwell wrote that essay, one of his most pointed non-fiction statements, in 1946. Suffice it to say that the disease has “progressed” in the decades since then. Its severity today threatens the life of the body politic and the sanity of the politically attentive reader / listener.

     Rare is the politician who says what he means clearly and unambiguously. Politicians abhor being tied down to a position. They want as much wiggle room as they can get for themselves. Simultaneously, they strive to tie their opponents down as firmly as possible, thus giving them a fixed position to attack. The aspiring politician must master the circumlocution, the periphrasis, the adroit substitution, and the misleading implication, for his opponents will use these weapons against him.

     Babblespeak – the deliberate proliferation of ambiguity, obfuscation, and vermiculation — is the small-arms fire of political combat. Prohibited nowhere. No license is required.

     Two examples of political babblespeak are stuck in my craw this fine December morning. Though one of them is not from an aspirant to political office, both are political in the intentions behind them. The first is from Congressman Jim Jordan (R, OH):

     “This is the latest example of systematic corruption happening at the highest levels of the FBI, and the American people deserve full transparency.”

     This is typical of Jordan’s style. It’s full of sound and fury, but what, exactly, did he mean? “Systemic corruption:” a good round thumping phrase, but of what is he speaking? Did the “system” corrupt the FBI’s top people, or did they corrupt the “system?” What specifically did he mean by “deserve full transparency” — ? “Transparency” meaning what? Is the FBI to publicize the details of all its operations and discoveries henceforward, perhaps on the Web? Can there be such a thing as partial transparency? “Transparent” on what subjects: all, some, or only one? And how on Earth did “the American people,” itself an ambiguous construction, come to “deserve” any of that? Did we earn it somehow, or purchase it retail, or is it the subject of an entitlement buried somewhere in the Constitution?

     The second example comes from a departed Twitter executive:

     Yael Roth, who resigned as Twitter head of safety Nov. 10, said during an interview at a Tuesday Knight Foundation event that the social media site was less safe since Musk took over the site, Reuters reported.

     I do love that word “safe.” The non-specificity of it is unequaled in political jargon, unless by the approximately equivalent term “security.” Safe from what? What actual hazards to life, limb, or property have emerged from Twitter since Musk’s purchase? Are there degrees of safety that we can measure with some notional calipers? And by the way, whose safety is at issue? The random Twitter user? The Twitter workforce? Or perhaps the Usurper Regime, the Democrat Party, and their media handmaidens?

     There aren’t many people who unpack political statements as meticulously as I do. But then, I’m a fanatic of sorts: I insist on knowing exactly what’s meant by such pronouncements. The typical news consumer might not be aware of the dangers inherent in such orations, but many, perhaps most, have a formless feeling of unease about it all. Something is lurking in the shadows cast by these statements, and we know without being able to pin it down that it means us nothing good.

     Arthur Herzog, in railing against such stuff in The B.S. Factor, prescribed what he called “sharp questions:”

     “Why?” “What for?” “When?” “What do you mean?” “Who?” These are terrifying questions, in a way, considering how seldom they are answered. And when answers are given, they don’t appear to be the right answers….

     The point is that such questions are designed to illuminate what is happening and they tend to take little for granted by way of conventional answers. The aim of the radical skeptic is to lower the confusion and eliminate the nonsense, hedges, and non sequiturs which make the American political dialogue something that approaches real torture.

     But rather than ask such questions and insist on specific answers to them, the typical American news consumer is more inclined simply to “tune it all out.” Despite my diametrically opposed inclinations, I have a great deal of sympathy for him.

     “Say what you mean, mean what you say. You know that if everybody followed that rule, there’d be a lot less trouble.” – Chris Cooper as Bob Cody, in Interstate 60

     And a lot less verbal offal to pollute our news organs, airwaves, and ears.

1 comment

    • Dan on December 1, 2022 at 10:53 AM

    The left learned long ago that controlling language is 90% of controlling a society.  Thus they infiltrated, suborned and corrupted the media as one of their first goals.  Now they tell people what to believe, what to think, what to do.  Combine that with their control of academia and the judiciary and their grasp on control is unbreakable….at least legally and peacefully.

Comments have been disabled.