Tuesday, October 9, 2007

"Reclaim the Quaint"

A book came out a few years back that detailed the Republican's masterful use of language to solidify their power base. The book showed how the Republican party is able to appropriate and over time change the meaning or values associated with a phrase. For example, in the early 1970's, being a "progressive" was a positive thing. Now, it is spit out like sour milk. It was fascinating from an anthropological linguistics standpoint.

The other day on the Daily Show, John Oliver "reported" on the redefining of certain terms and phrases over the past few years. It is funny, but not, all at the same time. See "Tortured Logic." (You'll have to sit through a short Doritos commercial at the beginning.) If you haven't read it already, please also see my essay: "Don't You Wonder Why this Even Needs Clarification?" at the Global Justice Group Blog.

This may be too obvious to state, but part of the uncertainty and fear that people feel these days isn't just coming from the outside threat of terrorists. It is coming from the manipulation of people's fears and doubts by politicians hungry for power (not just Republicans). Language is so fundamental that having shifting meanings and definitions is about like telling people the floor is the ceiling. You then have a bunch of people walking around in a daze, "Am I dreaming that I'm awake, wondering about dreaming that I'm awake?" and ready to be led like lambs to slaughter.

Part of the waking up is reclaiming our language and the populace (that's us) defining what means what, not Rupert Murdock nor Harry Reid. I don't know about you, but I like feeling terra ferma under my feet and being able to trust what people say up front. I'm sick of having to be cynical and distrust what I'm being told (whether by politicians, professors, journalists, teenagers or men). Let's get back to the "gold standard" of language, where "A man's word is his bond" and all the sort of things that we find "quaint" today.

Let us "reclaim the quaint" and start living in the type of world that we define, not one that is defined for us. Start defining your world: What do you want your world to be? What are you willing to do to make that happen?

That's a question so worth asking, that finding the answer is unimportant.

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