Mightier than Swords   6 comments

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

Rules:

1. Link your blog to this hop.

2. Notify your following that you are participating in this blog hop.

3. Promise to visit/leave a comment on all participants’ blogs.

4. Tweet/or share each person’s blog post. Use #OpenBook when tweeting.

5. Put a banner on your blog that you are participating.

<!– start InLinkz code –>

<span style=”display: none;”>http://a%20href=</span>

<!– end InLinkz code –>

https://fresh.inlinkz.com/p/63835ee84503413e91185daf9a0207cd

Words have incredible power in the hands of good communicators. They can raise you to the highest heavens or drop you from 30,000 feet without a net. They can make you feel wonderfully competent or grossly inadequate. However, the power of words is not in the words themselves as in the power the listeners invest in them.

My first experience with the power of language was in realizing that language could be distorted so as to wield power over others.

I don’t remember exactly how old I was – maybe 10 or 12 – when my father began to have trouble calling himself a “liberal”.

Related image

I grew up in Alaska where the discussion of politics is an indoor participation sport. The adults loved to argue politics and they thought it was their responsibility to teach the youngsters, so we were expected to pay attention and formulate our own opinions. Alaskans are and were actually really well-read. Long, dark, cold winters mean we have a lot of time for intellectual pursuits. We have great public and university libraries and they are well-used. This meant that much of what the adults were talking about was backed up by study.

My mom was a conservative non-partisan old-style feminist (she liked men, definitely wanted them in her life, but she didn’t think she should bow to them). My dad was a lifelong Democrat union organizer who would not recognize the Democratic Party of 2019. I knew my parents didn’t agree politically, but they weren’t at each other’s throats. When I stand back and look at it with a long lens, I think they really didn’t disagree on any of the big issues. Mom thought her money did her more good in her purse than in the pocket of some government official and Dad trusted the government a bit more than she did. Dad could call himself a Democrat and feel just fine with that. Mom felt she was lying if she promised fidelity to a single political party, so she was a registered non-partisan so she could vote for whichever party she preferred that election. That was about the extent of their political differences.

But in 1970, maybe 72, Dad foresaw where the Democratic party was headed and he started having trouble calling himself a “liberal”. He’d been struggling with this idea for a while when I overheard the conversation. How long is a mystery to me as Dad died before I was old enough to really pursue the topic, but he and my mom were talking about the McGovern campaign for President (1972) and Dad said he didn’t think the Democratic Party was still the party of liberals. He found the newest crop to be intolerant, abusive children who wanted a lot of stuff for nothing. Sound familiar? Yeah. He foresaw that. He didn’t know what to do about it and it bothered him, a lifelong committed Democrat, that he was expected to vote for policies and politicians who did not represent what he thought of as “liberal values.” (see the image above for the traditional definition of “liberal” and the image below for the modern progressive-liberal.

Mom hit it on the head that day when she said “They sound a lot more like the progressives from back when we were kids.” The conversation then moved onto whether the progressives were Republican (Teddy Roosevelt was) or Democratic (Woodrow Wilson was) and I don’t recall my parents exploring the change in the word “liberal” at the time. It stuck with me because I was already developing into a language geek and here was a word my dad had been using for 50 years that no longer had the meaning he associated with it.

Image result for difference between classical liberal and progressive

I know from my adult studies in history that the American progressives got their political and philosophical hats handed to them. They were completely discredited when they were infiltrated by the socialists and so, they spent a few decades in obscurity. They then came back in the 1960s, relabeled themselves “liberals” and took over the Democratic Party. They took advantage of the growing post-modern sentiments to claim “language has no meaning and we can define these historical words to mean anything we want.” Dad was sensing that change. Without the internet at the time, he couldn’t locate cogent arguments for why it was happening, but he knew it was.

When Hillary Clinton ran in 2012 and again in 2016, she used the more-correct term of “progressive” to describe herself, perhaps sensing that the term “liberal” had been flogged to death by the illiberal Democrats. That still doesn’t really solve the dilemma of people like me who subscribe the traditional liberal principles like freedom and self-sufficiency, but can’t use that term without invoking the warped definition of the word.

Dad’s lost word isn’t the only word that has been warped into a new meaning in the intervening years. My parents, who were young adults in World War 2, wouldn’t recognize how some people in our era define “fascism”, just as I now am perplexed by how some people define “racism” and “sexism”. This could be a much longer article if I focused on all of the word games post-moderns use to change the tenor of conversations. Dad’s struggle with the word “liberal” was my first recognition that how we use words can damage our relationships and ability to dialogue with one another. It stuck with me going forward because it’s always in the news and it involved some of my dad’s most fundamental beliefs and relationships. I’ve often wondered where Dad would stand politically today and I suspect he’d join Mom and me in the non-partisan camp, suspicious of political parties in general.

Words have meaning, which in the hands of good communicators comes with power, and in order for us to communicate, the meanings need to be understood by all. Unfortunately, the post-modern belief that words are malleable and the meaning can be changed whenever and however the user of the moment likes is harmful to meaningful communication. It’s one of the reasons Western society is tearing itself apart today. Some of us have redefined words to meanings that the users of those words never agreed to. Further, we misapply these redefined words to others without even bothering to find out if the words actually apply to them. Then some in society repeat those redefined words over and over in order to denigrate those they disagree with.

There’s a famous saying – the pen is mightier than the sword, meaning that the minds of people are won by persuasive arguments and not brute force. Words have power. The American revolution, according to John Adams, was wrought in the minds of the people (via the words of pamphleteers like Thomas Paine) a long time before the shot heard round the world on Lexington Green. I want to believe that we can make changes in society through reasoned debate on topics that affect all of us, but when we change the meanings of words without telling our rhetorical opponents, we game the debate process to our own benefit. It’s time we stopped that and agreed on a common vocabulary, so we can talk, know when to agree or disagree, and not have to make enemies of people whose words we redefined to mean something they didn’t mean.

Just a thought.

6 responses to “Mightier than Swords

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Reasoned debate seems like a far-off fantasy these days. Everyone is working so hard to protect their piece of the pie that they can’t even consider someone else’s point of view.

    Like

    • That’s why I host those conversation teasers on FB, hoping people will sometimes see that that person they disagree with has a reasoned argument. People don’t have to accept that argument, but then again, maybe it’ll open a whole world to them. You just never know.

      Like

  2. There’s a lot of distortion going on, and fear is louder than common sense.

    Like

    • People no longer stop and think about anything and some of that is because the ideas they embrace are based on hyperbolic phrases. I should probably focus on some of these misused words in my conversation teasers.

      Like

  3. The semiotician in me cringes at the notion that words be stagnant in meaning. They never have been because while the “signs” may be somewhat stable (there are variant spellings of the same word in English alone), the signifiers always change. Interesting standpoint.

    Like

    lyndellwilliams47
    • Language drift is perfectly normal. However, I’m talking about the deliberate misuse of words to hide a political and/or social agenda. It causes confusion and makes communication less effective than it ought to be. It also leads to a society that is at each other’s throats currently because some people have decided to use redefined words as weapons.

      Like

What's Your Opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Servicios promonet

Promoviendo su negocio en la Internet

the dying fish

Book info, ordering, about me etc. in upper right

STRAIGHT LINE LOGIC

Never underestimate the power of a question

Healthy Ebooks

Healthy tips to live more & better!

Mikes Film Talk

Entertainment, Films, Books, Television

Radical Capitalist

Anti-State. Anti-Left. Pro-White.

PushUP24

Health, Fitness, and Relationships is a great way to start living again.

MG WELLS

✪ Enjoy The Journey!

ouryoungaddicts.wordpress.com/

Too many young people are becoming addicted to drugs/alcohol. Our Young Addicts is a community of parents and professionals sharing experiences, resources and hopes on the spectrum of addiction, treatment and recovery.

Warhawke's Vault Book Blog

A Literary Treasure Trove Of Light To Dark Romance

Bookstorecoffee

A Book Blog

Bermansplaining

Unfiltered News and Opinion on Politics, Culture and Tech. Tweet a Tip or Story (@EthanBerman) or Email (bermansplaining@gmail.com).

%d bloggers like this: