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Old 07-19-2006, 10:52 PM   #1
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Unspeak

I started to read a book with a really interesting premise, and I thought I'd throw out some of the ideas in the book and see what you all think. The book is called Unspeak by Steven Poole and he raises some really though provoking ideas. Unfortunately the book is unabashedly biased against the Right that I just couldn't get through it. For me, I felt that the book was so heavily agenda driven that I couldn't really take it seriously.

Still the concept is interesting, and I wish the author had made more than a token attempt at looking at how both the Left and Right do this rather than just bashing the Conservatives. I'm hoping we might be able to create a more balanced approach ourselves here.

This is a quote from the introduction (the only place in the entire book that I could find where he acknowledges that Liberals can do this also):

By the way, I'm sorry it's not in a quote box. I'm not sure how to do that without quoting someone else:

"What do the phrases 'pro-choice', 'tax relief', and 'Friends of the Earth' all have in common? They are all names that contain political arguments, in a way that alternative names--say, 'opposed to the criminilisation of abortion', 'tax reduction', or 'a group of environmental campaigners' do not.

Campaigners against abortion in the early 1970s described their position as defending a 'right to life'. The opposing camp known as 'pro-abortionists' then renamed their posistion 'pro-choice', rhetorically softening what they favored. Defending a woman's 'right to choose' whether to have a baby or not, the slogan 'pro-choice' appealed to the apparently invoilable concept of individual responsibility. It sought to cast adversaries as 'anti-choice.' However the phrase carried unfortunate associations with the consumerist ideal of 'choice', as though choosing cereals in a supermarket were an appropriate model for ethics. Indeed, anti-abortionists quickly trumped that linguistic strategy by beginning to call themselves 'pro-life', a term first recorded in 1976. The phrase 'pro-life' appeals to a sacred concept of 'life', and casts one's opponents--those who think abortion should be legally available--necessarily as anti-life, in fact pro-death. In a conceptual battle of two moral ideals, 'life' easily wins out over 'choice.'

To talk of 'tax relief' is already to take a position on socially desirable levels of taxation. One is relieved of a load, or a pain, or an illness. . . So even before you start having a debate about tax levels, the phrase 'tax relief' alrady contains an argument that tax should be minimized whenever possible. 'Tax relief' goes hand in hand with a similar name for what it seeks to reduce: the 'tax burden', which describes something while already arguing that it should be as low as possible. After all, no one likes a burden.

'Friends of the Earth' is a network of environmental groups in seventy countries. The name efficiently consigns anyone who disagrees with their specific policies to the category of 'Enemy of the Earth'. An enemy of the earth must be a very nasty sort of person indeed, a sci-fi villan like Ming the Merciless. Morever the claim that the Earth is the sort of thing you can be 'friends' with smuggles in a further holistic concept of the entire planet as a living organism; a Gaia theory, which carries a large implicit cargo of policy implications.

Each of these terms then-'pro-life', 'tax relief', 'Friends of the Earth'--is a name for something, but not a neutral name. It is a name that smuggles in a political opinion. And this is done in a remarkably efficient way: a whole partisan argument is packed into a sound bite. These precision-engineered packages of language are launched by politicians and campaigners, and targeted at newspaper headlines and snazzy television graphics, where they land and dispense their payload of persuaion into the public consciousness.

Words and phrases that function in this special way go by many names. Some writers call them 'evaluative-descriptive terms'. Others talks of 'terministic screws' or discuss the way debates are 'framed.' I will call them Unspeak."
--excerpted from the introduction to Unspeak by Steven Poole.


So whaddya think? Can you think of some examples of Unspeak? (From both sides of the aisle please!).
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Old 07-20-2006, 07:32 AM   #2
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I believe what you're describing is called 'framing'. I don't know the book in question, never heard of it, but the general idea is highly relevant to today. The worst thing any of us can do is take public rhetoric at face value.

Frame the debate, you call the shots. Why do Democrats love abortion?
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Old 07-20-2006, 10:49 AM   #3
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While it is not the name of a specific movement that I know of - the word "tolerance" is used in the same manner as the "Right to life" and "Friends of the Earth." To disagree with someone who considered himself "tolerant" - you are automatically labeled “intolerant” (i.e. bigot, hate monger, homophobe)
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Old 07-20-2006, 10:53 AM   #4
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The Death Tax.

the Marriage Penalty.

Special Rights.
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Old 07-20-2006, 11:07 AM   #5
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George Carlin's classic rant on this topic

I don't like words that hide the truth. I don't words that conceal reality. I don't like euphemisms, or euphemistic language. And American English is loaded with euphemisms. Cause Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent the kind of a soft language to protest themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation. For some reason, it just keeps getting worse. I'll give you an example of that. There's a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It's when a fighting person's nervous system has been stressed to it's absolute peak and maximum. Can't take anymore input. The nervous system has either (click) snapped or is about to snap. In the first world war, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn't seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! Battle fatigue. Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, were up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It's totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car. Then of course, came the war in Viet Nam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it's no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we've added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I'll bet you if we'd of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I'll betcha. I'll betcha.

But. But, it didn't happen, and one of the reasons. One of the reasons is because we were using that soft language. That language that takes the life out of life. And it is a function of time. It does keep getting worse. I'll give you another example. Sometime during my life. Sometime during my life, toilet paper became bathroom tissue. I wasn't notified of this. No one asked me if I agreed with it. It just happened. Toilet paper became bathroom tissue. Sneakers became running shoes. False teeth became dental appliances. Medicine became medication. Information became directory assistance. The dump became the landfill. Car crashes became automobile accidents. Partly cloudy bacame partly sunny. Motels became motor lodges. House trailers became mobile homes. Used cars became previously owned transportation. Room service became guest-room dining. And constipation became occasional irregularity. When I was a little kid, if I got sick they wanted me to go to the hospital and see a doctor. Now they want me to go to a health maintenance organization...or a wellness center to consult a healthcare delivery professional. Poor people used to live in slums. Now the economically disadvantaged occupy substandard housing in the inner cities. And they're broke! They're broke! They don't have a negative cash-flow position. They're fucking broke! Cause a lot of them were fired. You know, fired. management wanted to curtail redundancies in the human resources area, so many people are no longer viable members of the workforce.

Smug, greedy, well-fed white people have invented a language to conceal their sins. It's as simple as that. The CIA doesn't kill anybody anymore, they neutralize people...or they depopulate the area. The government doesn't lie, it engages in disinformation. The pentagon actually measures nuclear radiation in something they call sunshine units. Israeli murderers are called commandos. Arab commandos are called terrorists. Contra killers are called freedom fighters. Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part of it to us, do they? Never mention that part of it.

And...and some of this stuff is just silly, we all know that, like on the airlines, they say want to pre- board. Well, what the hell is pre-board, what does that mean? To get on before you get on? They say they're going to pre-board those passengers in need of special assistance. Cripples! Simple honest direct language. There is no shame attached to the word cripple that I can find in any dictionary. No shame attached to it, in fact it's a word used in bible translations. Jesus healed the cripples. Doesn't take seven words to describe that condition. But we don't have any cripples in this country anymore. We have The physically challenged. Is that a grotesque enough evasion for you? How about differently abled. I've heard them called that. Differently abled! You can't even call these people handicapped anymore. They'll say, "Were not handicapped. Were handicapable!" These poor people have been bullshitted by the system into believing that if you change the name of the condition, somehow you'll change the condition. Well, hey cousin, ppsssspptttttt. Doesn't happen. Doesn't happen.

We have no more deaf people in this country, hearing impaired. No ones blind anymore, partially sighted or visually impaired. We have no more stupid people. Everyone has a learning disorder...or he's minimally exceptional. How would you like to be told that about your child? "He's minimally exceptional." "Oohh, thank god for that." Psychologists actually have started calling ugly people, those with severe appearance deficits. It's getting so bad, that any day now I expect to hear a rape victim referred to as an unwilling sperm recipient.

And we have no more old people in this country. No more old people. We shipped them all away, and we brought in these senior citizens. Isn't that a typically American twentieth century phrase? Bloodless, lifeless, no pulse in one of them. A senior citizen. But I've accepted that one, I've come to terms with it. I know it's to stay. We'll never get rid of it. That's what they're going to be called, so I'll relax on that, but the one I do resist. The one I keep resisting is when they look at an old guy and they'll say, "Look at him Dan! He's ninety years young." Imagine the fear of aging that reveals. To not even be able to use the word "old" to describe somebody. To have to use an antonym. And fear of aging is natural. It's universal. Isn't it? We all have that. No one wants to get old. No one wants to die, but we do! So we bullshit ourselves. I started bullshitting myself when I got to my forties. As soon as I got into my forties I'd look in the mirror and I'd say, "well, I...I guess I'm getting...older." Older sounds a little better than old doesn't it? Sounds like it might even last a little longer. Bullshit, I'm getting old! And it's okay, because thanks to our fear of death in this country, I won't have to die...I'll pass away. Or I'll expire like a magazine subscription. If it happens in the hospital, they'll call it a terminal episode. The insurance company will refer to it as negative patient-care outcome. And if it's the result of malpractice, they'll say it was a therapeutic misadventure. I'm telling you, some of this language makes me want to vomit. Well, maybe not vomit. Makes me want to engage in an involuntary personal protein spill.
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Old 07-20-2006, 11:29 AM   #6
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I remember hearing Carlin's piece. Even though he is usually considered a comedian, there is a lot of uncomfortable truth in what he says.
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Old 07-20-2006, 11:48 AM   #7
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Hugh Hefner's girlfriends really means Hugh Hefner's whores

I mean, c'mon.
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Old 07-20-2006, 03:11 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by AEON
While it is not the name of a specific movement that I know of - the word "tolerance" is used in the same manner as the "Right to life" and "Friends of the Earth." To disagree with someone who considered himself "tolerant" - you are automatically labeled “intolerant” (i.e. bigot, hate monger, homophobe)
Here's Poole's take on 'tolerance'. He takes an even dimmer view than you do:

"If someone congratulates themselves on 'tolerating' others, it may be because they already find them uncongenial in some way. One tolerates a friend's annoying habit or a mild toothache. To tolerate is not to embrace. George W. Bush displayed the weasel use of 'tolerance' when asked during the third Presidential debate in 2004 whether he thought homosexuality is a choice. 'I don't know Bob. I just don't know,' Bush said, playing for time. The he found the appropriate homily: 'I do know that we have a choice to make in America, and that's to treat people with tolerance, respect, and dignity.' This might be read as meaning: gay people deserve tolerance, sure--but that doesn't mean we have to LIKE them. We tolerate what we despise, as the hippo tolerates the flea. WE will 'tolerate' THEIR 'community', as long as it does not impinge upon ours. Of course, one is not morally obliged to feel warm and fuzzy towards those whose rights one is nevertheless prepared vigorously to defend. Bout to congratulate oneself for one's 'tolerance' is somtimes actively to display distaste."
--Quote from "Unspeak" by Steven Poole, p. 29

He's got a fascinating perspective on the term 'community' as well which I'll post later.
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