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Monday, November 23, 2009

The Corruption of Language (2)

As we get closer to the Copenhagen meeting that is supposed to (but will not) agree on a replacement for the soon to expire Kyoto Protocol, the common term used to describe the problem appears to be 'climate change'.

So what does that mean?

If the problem is global warming, say so. If, on the other hand, the problem is an imminent ice age, then say that.

George Orwell warned us about the deliberate misuse of language by authoritarian governments as a tool to enhance their powers. He also noted our own ability to mislead ourselves:

"[Our language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."

"... but if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought."

At the risk of being thought pedantic, it is time to insist on precision in language. Without precision, sloppy thinking leads to self deception, foolish policies and, likely sooner rather than later, tyranny.

Would that there were more people like the late John Lennon who, when asked how he wrote such good songs, said:

"Say what you mean, make it rhyme, give it a back beat."

Say what you mean is the critically important issue. If it sounds harsh, or offends the thin of skin, then so be it.

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