Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name Would ... Smell

As a lover of words and meanings, I am continually amazed at the way some of us twist ourselves into semantic pretzels in order to be politically and socially correct - whether by the approved standards of the "conservative" right or the "liberal" left. Euphemism has become a sociopolitical art form.

I thought about this in the context of two recent articles that look at the amazing level of verbal gymnastics to which politics has driven us. The first is this article by Scott Harper from the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot: Lawmakers Avoid Buzzwords on Climate Change Bills. Here are a few key sections from the article ...

"State lawmakers ran into a problem this year when recommending a study on rising sea levels and their potential impacts on coastal Virginia ... They discovered that they could not use the phrases 'sea level rise' or 'climate change' in requesting the study, in part because of objections from Republican colleagues and also for fear of stirring up conservative activists, some of whom believe such terms are liberal code words. On its website, for example, the Virginia tea party described the proposed 'sea level rise' study this way: 'More wasted tax dollars for more ridiculous studies designed to separate us from our money and control all land and water use.'... So lawmakers did away with all mention of sea level rise, substituting a more politically neutral phrase: 'recurrent flooding.'"

The other article, by Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic Monthly, is titled Words Conservatives Hate. Yes, the party that gave us "death tax" as an approved conservative alternative to "estate tax," and "death panels" as a scary bugbear to muddy the waters of health care reform, objects to some other expressions it views as "liberal code words" or "left-wing terms" designed to "conjure up animosities on the right." Three examples given in the article are:

- "Bisexual" and "Transgender" because, after all, such creatures do not really exist and, thus, do not need protection;

- "Sea Level Rise" and "Climate Change" (citing the Virginian-Pilot article we already discussed above); and,

- "Sustainable Development." This one is interesting because it is viewed as part of an assault on individual property rights. According to Alabama GOP Executive Director T.J. Maloney, as quoted in the article speaking of legislation voted down in the Alabama legislature ...

"This bill, that would bar the state from taking over private property without due process, is intended to shelter Alabamians from the United Nations Agenda 21, a sustainable development initiative that some conservatives see as a precursor for the creation of a world government." 

I'm glad someone is protecting me from the all-powerful United Nations and its relentless drive to rule the world. After all, the speed and vigor with which it has brought the Iranian nuclear weapons program to heel and clamped down on the ongoing violence in Syria clearly shows how omnipotent and hell-bent on world domination it really is. 

The two articles I cited above focus on the verbal gymnastics of the far right, but the left is equally prone to torturing the language until it produces the correct answer. The difference, I think, is that people who are political moderates or just slightly left or right of center don't decisively reject ideas they don't like. Consider this relevant article from Salon.com: As America Grows More Polarized, Conservatives Increasingly Reject Science and Rational Thought. As author Amanda Marcotte writes,

"... education isn’t enough to fight ignorance, not when it comes to heavily politicized issues ... political identity generally trumps sober-minded assessment of the facts when it comes to convincing people of an argument or idea."


Shakespeare thought that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet*. In the ridiculous circus that passes for political discourse today, a rose by any other name just smells, whether you smell it from the left or the right.

Have a good day. Resist the urge to call a spade a pointy shovel. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

The conservative and liberal wordsmiths have a vaunting task: to convince people that some foul odor smells like rose water, or the reverse.

The end result is a denaturing of our language and means of communication

eViL pOp TaRt said...

Yesterday I saw prunes referred to as dried plums.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

I have to tell you when this header came up on my screen it made me giggle! Thank you Bilbo. Much needed today.

but the rest of the post makes me sad. WTH is wrong with people? oh wait, I don't think you have time to explain that to me do you?

Mike said...

I wonder if there is a PC term for wind bag?

Bilbo said...

Angelique - we are definitely cheapening the language the more silly euphemisms we use. And, if I'm not mistaken, a prune is, in fact, a dried plum (or, as my dad might have said, plum, tuckered out).

Peggy - Glad I was able to give you the giggle. And no, I don't.

Mike - how about "moving gas containment device"?

Duckbutt said...

It's sad that so many people in our country are suspicious of science and rational thought.

Big Sky Heidi said...

They were geting cute about possible sea rise in NC too.