Half Past the Month

January 18, 2021

HERE IS A PROPOSAL to help bring us back together after this week’s bizarre inauguration. It involves restraint and precision in the use of our words, something that George Orwell encouraged in his “Politics and the English Language.”

“Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind,” was the great man’s conclusion.

For starters, we can honor Orwell by retiring the word, “democracy,” which he rightly observed has become dishonest, meaning whatever the user chooses it to mean, used by even tinhorn dictators to justify their tinhorn dictates.

Next, we can throw away “hypocrisy” in its political context. The word has been misused and overused to ruin. It means the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform. It is a pretense itself, however, that somewhere in modern politics there is a moral standard or belief.

Likewise, we can no longer justify the use of “bombshell” implying that something profound has been revealed that will change the course of the day’s discussion or even the historic arch. It can, however, continue to be used to describe actual bombshells thrown during our “largely peaceful” riots.

Similarly, in the discussion of speech freedom, the phrase admonition against “shouting fire in a crowded theater” is no longer helpful considering that so many at least political theaters seem to be on fire these days. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes emphasized the word “falsely” in his famous 1928 opinion: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

Use of “the people’s house” for the U.S. House of Representatives if not the White House is pretentious knowing that opinion surveys show Capitol Hill has an approval rating equal only to the number of drunk or otherwise addled citizens wandering around at any given time.

“Congressional investigation” is now understood to mean that something untoward has been unearthed and those directly or indirectly responsible need the political cover of a process, preferably lengthy, designed to avoid any meaningful conclusion.

Finally, George Carlin has been proved inarguably correct that the use of “bipartisan” means nothing more than that some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out. — tcl


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