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Lots of Words but Little Meaning

January 7, 2010

Lots of Words but Little Meaning

English is such an elusive method of communication with its adjectives and verbs to insert emotional emphasis to almost every sentence. Almost every language is tainted with the emotional baggage of its history. Words have meanings and they can have double meanings. They can even have meanings thrust upon them. People use words like tools and they can use words like weapons. We can explain a situation carefully and we can exaggerate the same situation to inflame anger. The emotional beats that we are can often be found wallowing in their self-congratulations and delighting in the misery of others. Words have roots and those roots can go deep but at same time we have people who love to engage in semantics just for personal gain.

Perhaps one of the most frustrating types of people you can meet is the person who engages in habitual semantics. Up no longer means up, down now longer means down, suppression is always a political term and they are never wrong. How could they be when words can be twisted and turned to match whatever meaning suits them at that time? For a self-congratulating person with mediocre English skills, semantics offers them the trump card to fling out whenever they are forced to explain their own actions. Innocent words become weapons in the hands of the unscrupulous because the can be selectively quoted and given new meanings to suit any accusation.

The word ‘Manhole’ has been exorcised from the English curriculum and using it in an essay can lead to the loss of a mark. This is just one example but there are so many others. The desire to build a neutral language may suit Feminist Ideologues but it also leads to eternal blandness.

Emotional words play an important part in the way that people try to sell unpopular proposals to a crowd. The unscrupulous will always seek to bypass rational thought and go instead for the emotional impact of shock and fear. Eventually, they become good at these low tactics because many people just want to feel good about something. Thinking requires effort but feeling requires none. Love and hate are the two most powerful emotions we have but they can easily be manipulated with fear and desire. People can be confused with stories of threats to their comfort zones or be misled by false promises of a better life. Words can be used in such circumstances to sell the poison with a sugar coating of eloquence.

Let’s take the word ‘Progress’ for example. Immediately it conjures up an image of going somewhere positive. We have ‘Pilgrims Progress’ and we have the ‘Progress of Time.’ Yet it was only after it became useful as a political term that it really became used commonly as a noun. People were giving themselves the label ‘Progressive’ because it made them look good. A proposal that they favored was suddenly a ‘Progressive Initiative’ where as those that opposed their view were labeled as ‘Reactionaries.’ Notice how the language and the emotion are so intertwined that it never looks upon the issue from an objective viewpoint. Once something is given the marketing term ‘Progressive’ it is presumed to be positive and good. The problem is that anyone can usurp this word to sell any warped concept as being progressive. If you oppose them on legitimate ground then I guess you are just a ‘Reactionary’ and there for considered unquestionably wrong.

Another way that words are used is to smear people with a slur. The point of such exercises it to crush all debate and to exclude people from any form of reasoned discourse. It is much easier to smear someone when they are not around than if they are. A person who hears a falsehood being mentioned about them can correct that error. Yet when the person is excluded from the conversation any cheap and nasty gossip can be left unchallenged and therefore left uncorrected.

Do people ever wonder why terms like ‘Anti-Semite’ gets flung around so liberally? It is because few would want to be seen as being anti-Semitic or to be giving tacit support by associating with anti-Semites. The word ‘Misogynist’ is often used falsely by those that have no interest in reasonable discourse to act as a warning to others. You are not to associate with this person because we have labeled him a ‘Misogynist Sexist Reactionary’. Note how the smear is designed to ‘poison the well’ and scare well-meaning people off. Repeat a scurrilous lie often enough and some honest people will be duped. It is this deception of honest people that makes smear campaigns so effective. They are fooling some of the people some of the time.

Yet there is a grander desire of people who engage in smear campaigns and that is to ‘poison a bigger well’ and breed distrust. When Dawkins wrote that ‘Even Mild and Benevolent form of religion are dangerous’ he was directly engaging in this tactic. He wanted people to feel unsafe around what is a major portion of the population. He was sowing the seeds of fear for the sake of his personal political desires. This kind of shallow rhetoric reflects itself in the pseudo-scientific babble that he himself has invented: The Meme.

I find many similarities between some of the concepts of Dawkins and L Ron Hubbard when it comes to manipulating language and inventing new terms. Why is the Meme any more valid than Dianetics? Can someone tell me because I fail to see it? Yet that would take up an entire post to discuss, so I will drop it for now.

It is important to understand that words are inventions made at certain time in history. As time progresses sometimes the meaning of those words change. At other times people argue to change the meaning to suit their own selfish purpose. Semantics may be a higher art for some but form me it offers very little intellectual nourishment.

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