Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I’m particular about the way thoughts are phrased.  I don’t mean that I’m pedantic about grammar and word-choice (though I am), but rather that I want thoughts to be phrased in a manner that’s clear, concise and unambiguous (and just to be clear, concise and unambiguous, I’m absolving cases where vagueness, prolixity and ambiguity are used for literary effect).

One type of irritant is the overuse of prepackaged, “approved” catchphrases and locutions that make speech sound like legal contracts.  Anyone remember when the PLO was the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” and that had to be repeated any time it was mentioned, as if the description was part of the name?  Nowadays we have “two states living side-by-side in peace and security” and “just and secure peace”, among others.  I understand that there are people out there just waiting to pounce on any deviation from the approved language, claiming that it indicates ideological apostasy.  What I understand less is why we don’t simply ignore those people in favor of the ones who just want to scream “Okay, Okay!  I get the point!  Can we please move on?!”  We obviously should favor those latter over the Thought Police, as well as unclutter our public discourse.

Some catchphrases are rather bizarre, in that it’s unclear what political orthodoxy is being observed in their use.  An example is “Libyan Strongman Muammar Gaddafi”.  Was he elected “Strongman”?  Is that his official title?  Does it appear on his letterhead, as in “Office of the Strongman of Libya”?  Was there something lacking in “tyrant” and “dictator”, or President-for-Life or whatever his official title is? (Wikipedia says he gave up “Prime Minister” and wants to be called "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution"; I guess “Strongman” is an improvement on that, but still.)

A related vice is the Unacknowledged Euphemism.  Think “Pro Choice” and “Pro Life”.  It looks like those are going to be with us for a while yet, but what spurred me to write this post is my sense that one of the more pernicious unacknowledged euphemisms seems to be losing currency:  People are finally giving up calling Pro-Palestinian activists “Peace activists”.  This feeling had been creeping up on me for a while, but before writing this I did a minimal validation by Googling the two phrases for references in the past five years and in the five years before that.  In the past five years “Peace activists” Israel outnumbers “Palestinian activists” Israel by three-to-one, but in the five years preceding the ratio was fifty-to-one.  Of course this is no sort of proof, and even if it were a clear indication of change in usage it would offer no clue as to cause, but part of an accurate apprehension of reality – which is what I’m always trying for – is accepting when something actually goes right.
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