By Selwyn Duke
It has been said that the side that defines the vocabulary of a debate wins the debate. This idea was expressed in George Orwell's book 1984 with "Newspeak," which was the name given to the language paradigm that the oppressive government portrayed in the book sought to foist upon its people. The purpose of Newspeak was as follows, "was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits . . . but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak was adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought should be literally unthinkable."
Orwell knew whereof he spoke. The fact of the matter is that the words we use can influence our thinking and set the boundaries of it. After all, while thought can take the form of imagery, more often than not we think using words. Any experienced pollster understands these principles and knows that he can shape his poll results by shaping the language of the questions. You can ask the same poll question in two different ways and achieve vastly different outcomes. For instance, ask people, "Should a woman have the right to choose to have an abortion" and you tend to get one result; ask them, "Should a woman be allowed to kill her unborn baby" and you get another.
Yes, language has the power to divide like in the Tower of Babel, to unite like in the polyglot nations that have adopted English as their national language and to manipulate thought and shape public debates, which can change culture. I'll illustrate this phenomenon with a somewhat fanciful example: imagine that there is a French culture and a German culture vying for primacy in a certain geographical area. The members of both groups are locked in a cultural war to determine whose way of life will dominate. Now, imagine what would happen if the French could convince all of the Germans to speak French; what do you then think the Germans' chances would be of achieving cultural hegemony or even maintaining parity? They would have lost three-quarters of the battle before it had even begun.
Of course, in the above situation the cultural divide would be obvious, making the cultural battle just as much so and this would make it unlikely that either side would relinquish its language and embrace the tongue of the other. It would be plain that such a surrender would be cultural suicide.
But what about when the cultural divide is just as wide but not as apparent and the language differences appear as easily-learned innovation and not as a foreign tongue? The cultural war might then be just as real but not as recognized, and one side might very well be able to successfully inure its adversaries to language-changes that serve its ends.
Such is the case in the America of the third millennium, only, the real battle lines are not drawn between certain disparate racial and ethnic groups that populate her. Rather, our culture war is between two general, multiracial groups that embrace world views that are as opposite as night and day, and the most profound color difference between them is that one sees right and wrong as black and white whereas the other sees only shades of gray. And while I am calling it a culture war, it is a struggle that is waged in the political and spiritual realms as well. You could call it a battle between the right and left, liberals and conservatives or traditional Christians and militant secularists. But whatever you term it -- and I shall use the second characterization -- the liberals have been defining the terms of the debate. I'll delve into this by examining elements of what I have called the lexicon of the left but in this piece will term Leftspeak, and explaining why I think they were originated and what the real effects they have on society are.
Underprivileged or Disadvantaged Instead of Poor
Most all of us have grown up hearing these terms so they tend to not sound strange to our ears, but using these five and four syllable words when you mean to say "poor" is as bizarre as saying "vertically-challenged" when you mean short. And think about what each term implies: when you say that someone is poor you are simply describing the person's financial situation without any implied judgement about responsibility for it. Underprivileged and disadvantaged carry a very different connotation, however. After all, the word privilege means a special right, benefit or advantage that is granted. "Advantage" [transitive verb] means to give an advantage to; to further; to promote; to benefit; to profit. Therefore, when you call someone underprivileged or disadvantaged, you are implying that he has not been granted, by some entity [presumably, the government], the benefits that are his birthright that's why he's UNDER [not as much as he should be]-privileged, or DIS [not]-advantaged. Moreover, it further implies that if some people are underprivileged or disadvantaged, others must be privileged or advantaged or, dare I say, overprivileged or overadvantaged. This, of course, would imply that they were granted too many benefits. It then follows that the grantors [again, presumably the government] have the right to take the necessary remedial action and redistribute wealth until everyone is "equally-privileged" or "equally-advantaged."
In a nutshell, the word poor doesn't tell us why the person it is attached to is in that state or what needs to happen for him to ascend out of it. Why, maybe he just needs to apply himself better, put his nose to the grindstone and pull himself up by the bootstraps. Underprivileged or disadvantaged, however, tells us in a very subtle way that the problem is not of his own design; he's simply been denied his piece of the pie by the mythical dispensers of wealth, who either reside in government or are the rich themselves. You can call these the Karl Marx language-reforms.
Gender Instead of Sex
In my view this is the piece de resistance of Leftspeak. I say this because it is the result of a change that has truly been made off the radar screen, making it a real coup for the language-engineers. And the proof of this is that you probably have not even an inkling of what I'm talking about. What I am talking about is the fact that while we regularly use the word gender to refer to a person's sex now, it was never used to refer to people until recently it only referred to words. Just consider the following definition, culled from my 1975 edition, American Heritage School Dictionary: "n. In grammar, one of a number of categories, such as masculine, feminine, and neuter, into which words are divided." It says absolutely nothing about usage that has to do with the sex of individuals. Now, I realize that some may think that the word has gained favor simply because "sex" is used so often today to refer to copulation, but that is not the reason.
I believe that the impetus behind the current usage of the word gender is the desire to legitimize homosexuality. You see, if you want to normalize something it helps if you can lump it in with that which is seen as normal. So, how do you place homosexuality in the same category as heterosexuality? Well, you can't very easily label homosexuals a third sex because the idea that there are only two sexes is cemented in people's minds. And anyway, people would resist the notion that a person's sex could be determined by his sexual inclination. But gender is the perfect word, for people had no preconceived notions about what it meant with regard to persons and it involves more than just two categories; again, "one of a number of categories . . . such as masculine, feminine, and neuter . . . " Lest you think I'm crazy, consider the way in which the organizers of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 sought to define the word family. What they initially said was that a family could comprise up to five genders: male heterosexual, female heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian and bisexual. And the only reason why this definition wasn't included in the final draft was that the Vatican fought for its removal. Of course, it really isn't necessary to look back at past events to vindicate my thesis. Just consider what many of those in the vanguard of the transgender movement say: they tell us that a person's gender can be whatever his heart desires.
What this all boils down to is that those of us who consider ourselves to be garden variety males or females and who are normal [yes, there is such thing as normal], are increasingly lumped into the same category as transsexuals, cross-dressers, transvestites, consciously androgynous people and drag kings and queens, all under the catchall heading "Gender." You can call this the homosexual agender language reforms.
I must confess that this one would have escaped my notice were it not for the brilliant insights of the former Archbishop of New York, Fulton J. Sheen. Tolerance has become one of the buzzwords of modern America; we're told that we should be tolerant of others and their lifestyles. But Sheen astutely pointed out that tolerance is not supposed to be used to refer to people and that it is only to be used in relation to evil or negatives. For instance, you may tolerate pain but you never tolerate a great dinner -- you relish it. You don't tolerate great weather, only terrible weather. You don't tolerate a beautiful car, a superb work of art, fine clothing or a dream vacation -- you like or love those things. For this reason we are not to tolerate people because people are not to be regarded as evil. Oh, we may have to tolerate their opinions, for they very well could be evil. But to have the perspective that people are to be tolerated would be wrong because we are called to do far better -- we are called to love people.
This means that the new usage of the word tolerance is the same as that of the word gender insofar as they both involve the taking of a word that had only been used to refer to things and expanding its definition to include persons. In this case it has a dual effect in that it can numb one to both the dignity man and the wickedness of evil, as it elevates the latter at the expense of the former. It does this by placing the sin and the sinner in the same category; on the one hand by transmitting the idea that a person can be a negative that may have to be tolerated, and on the other by sending the partially contradictory message that tolerance is not to be regarded as something that must be practiced when confronted with an unavoidable evil or cross to bear, but a virtue that should be practiced because there is no evil -- just things we find displeasing. Therefore, it's no longer "Condemn the sin but love the sinner." It's "There are no sinners or sins, only individuals and acts that occupy that gray area of personal taste. And you have not been enjoined to love or hate either, only to tolerate irritants, be they actions or the organic robots that commit them." And this is wrong, because to place immoral acts and human beings in the same category sanitizes the former and objectifies the latter.
Gay-Marriage and Heterosexual-Marriage
Just recently I heard a very prominent social commentator open his show with his very famous monologue segment. The topic was the affording of homosexuals the benefits of married people, but what captured my attention was the man's use of the following phrase, "Heterosexual marriage." Now, this particular individual is not a proponent of the dumbing-down of the institution of marriage, yet, unwittingly, he aided and abetted those he was trying to combat with his embrace of Leftspeak.
The problem is that the term marriage has been understood to mean the union between a man and a woman ever since the word came into usage in the English language. Therefore, if it's homosexual, it ain't marriage. The phrase homosexual-marriage is an oxymoron and the phrase heterosexual-marriage is a redundancy. And the danger of embracing the phrase heterosexual-marriage is that implicit in it is the idea that there's a viable alternative to it -- homosexual-marriage -- the use of which explicitly relates the same idea. Not surprisingly, the social-engineers are using the same strategy to legitimize homosexual unions that they use to legitimize homosexual behavior itself. They are lumping it in with that which is normal as they tell us that it is just another type of that very normal, healthy thing we call marriage.
I would be remiss if I didn't address one more, and far older, element of Leftspeak that is present in this section's subtitle. The term gay used to only mean happy until the language-engineers coopted and transformed it into what is a verbal Trojan horse, a euphemism. And they did this for the same reason why the explorer Erik "the Red" called the icy wilderness he discovered Greenland it's called clever marketing.
It could be the sickeningly ubiquitous tendency to use "He or she" or "His or her" instead of the masculine pronoun when speaking generically, or replacing that dreaded word man with "person." For instance, I heard that at my nephew's school they called Frosty and the rest of his race "snowpeople." What's interesting about this movement toward gender [the correct usage of that word, I hasten to point out] neutrality is that while the language-engineers studiously endeavor to demasculinize the language, they don't seem to care much about defeminizing it. They hardly ever complain about the language norm that dictates that we refer to things such as ships, nations, flags and institutions as "she," for example. Not that I have any problem with that, but I do take issue with the double-standards of the langauge-engineers. So I can assure you that you will not see the very traditional fingers of yours truly type out inclusive language in any way, shape or form. And should anyone who cannot be persuaded to join me in resurrecting tradition complain that I am trying to turn back the clock, I will reply simply and with the emphasis thusly: to each his own.
There are, however, at least two areas in which the language-engineers deviate from their pattern with respect to gender. For, while it has often been suggested that maybe God is a she [I realize that this issue goes beyond the grammatical and into the theological], the same is never suggested about the Devil. And then there is the relatively new practice of assigning male names to tropical storms and hurricanes, which had always been thought of as female in character. This is ironic, too, since the closet thing I can think of to a walking, talking hurricane is a militant feminist.
African-American Instead of Black
Many terms have been used to refer to black people; some were meant to be pejorative or came to be seen as so and some weren't. But one thing they all shared was that they referred only to racial characteristics, not geographical area of origin. If you're a black American you're an American with dark skin and if you're a white American you're an American with light skin, but in either case the label attached to you indicates that you are of the American nation and culture. The term African-American is very different. It partially shifts the focus away from the land in which we live and toward a different part of the world. This is destructive and divisive because black Americans already feel alienated from their nation, and this new label can only exacerbate this problem.
I also should point out that the phrase African-American is also very imprecise when read literally. If I'm a Boer Afrikaner or an Arab North African who has immigrated to our nation and has been naturalized, am I an "African-American"? Strange, too, because you would think that adding a hyphen, a word and six syllables to a group's description should make it more accurate, not less.
Of course, this is really just the most egregious example of a wider problem in that most all of us are hypenating ourselves nowadays; we may say we're Italian-Americans, Greek-Americans, etc. But think about it: if we don't think of ourselves first and foremost as being American, it's unlikely that on an emotional level we will want to take great pains to protect American traditions and institutions. I, for one, am American. I have a certain heritage, for sure, but your nationality is determined by the nation of which you are a citizen. So if I'm asked the question, "What are you?," there are many conceivable answers. I could say that I'm a writer, a man, a child of God or something else. But if the intent of the question is to inquire about my nationality, the fact of the matter dictates that there is only one correct answer: I'm American.
What preceded certainly didn't include every example of Leftspeak conjured up by the Machiavellian minds of the language-engineers. But developing a nose for it isn't difficult once you come to understand the principles that govern the manipulation of thought with words and that political correctness is perhaps the most influential social force of our time. For one thing, in this day and age a language change should be considered guilty until proven innocent. And you always have to be suspicious when people seek to replace a simple, one-syllable word with a complex multi-syllable one, as is the case with poor and underprivileged.
It's also not hard to understand the appeal of such language. Aside from the social pressure brought to bear against those who don't conform to Leftspeak, its words are alluring because they often give one an air of erudition, exactitude and sensitivity. Any second-grader can use the word poor but say "disadvantaged" and maybe you'll sound just a little more intelligent, is the seductive siren-song of the Leftspeakers. "He or she" makes it sound as if you're crossing every T and dotting every I and aren't forgetting anyone. But as far as sensitivity and exactitude go, only strive to be sensitive to the truth and exact with the powers of reason that can help you discern it. And there are over one million words in the English language, many of which don't see the light of day too often and will send readers scurrying for dictionaries. So there's no need to embrace a lexicon invented by banal malcontents if you want to sound intelligent, or, some would say, pompous. And you can trust me on this, because I specialize in it.
Now, I realize that many would say that this is nothing but a tempest in a teapot. "Duke, get a life; this isn't the first time language has changed and it won't be the last." Without a doubt, language does change. After all, we certainly aren't speaking the early modern English of Shakespeare fame. But the question is, when it changes why does it change? Is the change part of the natural course of events? Or, is it the result of a concerted effort to facilitate social-engineering? For, there's a big difference between dispensing with "thee" in favor of "you" and an attempt to change "chairman" to "chairperson." Lastly, if you still think that this is much ado about nothing, then consider the fact that the language-engineers disagree with you wholeheartedly. They know that the pen is mightier than the sword and that language is a powerful tool for effecting social change, and this is why they work feverishly to manipulate it. They're tickled pink when others don't see it that way, though. After all, this allows them to implement their schemes out of the light of day and foist them on the unsuspecting man on the street, who they regard to be a dolt in need of their divine guidance. Moreover, they know that brainwashing is only effective when its targets don't know it's occurring.
Now, if you're wondering who these creators of Leftspeak are, I can assure you they are not mythical creatures who are simply the product of over-active imaginations. No, they are the very real pseudo-intellectual academics who ply the halls of esteemed educational institutions from sea to shining sea. For it is in such places that college professors, who prove the old adage that an idle mind is the playground of the Devil, originate new words and seek to reshape language. They are often emboldened by a hubris born of a God-complex and motivated by a desire to be creative, but lack the one central ingredient of valid creativity: truth. But they have friends and enablers in high places, such as their philosophical soulmates in the media who revere them as an oracle of wisdom and will disseminate their fool's gold far and wide. And this is how it comes to us.
This is why I can only shake my head when I hear those who are dedicated to fighting everything such people stand for using Leftspeak. They often rail passionately against the left and its efforts to destroy what they hold dear with the most eloquent of words, but many of those words were put in their mouths by those bent on their defeat. It's much like using a computer program designed to prevent those who would destroy your system from hacking into it, without realizing that those very miscreants have written part of the program and have inserted viruses that ensure their ultimate victory and your total loss. Our side lost three-quarters of the battle before it had even begun.
Of course, though, these viruses are very easy to quarantine. If most of us simply left Leftspeak to those on the left, they would be left in the dust. There is absolutely no reason under the sun why we should allow social-engineers on college campuses to define the vocabulary of the debates. For too long these ne'er do wells have cast themselves as grand puppeteers, pulling strings and through subtle manipulation bending society to their will, as they have told us how to act and talk and think. When you realize this, it's a type of awakening. I, for one, will not march to the beat of their drummer. Not now, not tomorrow, not ever. And you don't have to either. So watch your mouth. For you may find that those who are most successful at enslaving you don't beat you over the head with a club, but with a dictionary. Because they know that the real war is waged in the heart and mind and soul of man, and that well-crafted linguistic sleights can win more territory on those battlefields than a thousand conquering hordes.