March 27, 2009

It’s a matter of obvious fact that our President gives a rousing speech. Ironically, President Bush was probably a better off-the-cuff speaker, but Mr. Obama, as he reads those carefully chosen words in that confident baritone voice off of the TOTUS, does make one FEEL reassured. That’s why a lot of Republicans and centrists who are now feeling huge buyers’ remorse for voting for the most liberal member of the Senate pulled the lever for him.

He’s a wordsmith. So, what are we to make of the recent changes in the American lexicon?

The late George Carlin had a comedy piece (which I could not find on YouTube) about euphemisms. It was about how “shell shock,” that powerful, evocative, two-syllable phrase eventually became parsed out of all meaning into “post-traumatic stress disorder,” an eight-syllable phrase, with a hyphen no less, but without the punch of the original.

The “Global War on Terror” was a weaselly phrase to begin with. Terror is a method, not an enemy. Many of us wanted it to be the Global War on Islamic Extremism. Still, the words themselves were clear. Global, war, terror–ask an 8-year-old what those words mean, and he or she can give you a valid answer.

Now, apparently the new phrase is “Overseas Contingency Operation.” We’ve gone from five or six syllables to 11. Has it gained us any meaning? Overseas, that’s a clear word. I wonder what we call it if terror strikes us, or Canada, or Mexico, though. Contingency, though. What does that mean in this context? Unpredictable? May or may not happen? Ask an 8-year-old what an overseas contingency operation is, and you’ll get a blank look. Still, forget the 8-year-olds–do any grow-ups know what this phrase is supposed to mean, or has all the meaning been parsed out of it? I’ll go on record–I know what the individual words “overseas,” “contingency,” and “operation” mean, but I have no clue what those words put together into a phrase are supposed to signify.

Still, it could be worse. Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano now eschews the word “terrorism” for man-caused disasters. So, we should be grateful we’re not having Overseas Contingency Operations Against Man-Caused Disasters (that’s OCOAMCD for all of you home gamers).

We also apparently don’t have “enemy combatants” anymore, either. I don’t believe I’ve read where a new term has been invented for those guys yet. I’m just hoping it’s not “friends we haven’t met yet.” Again, “enemy combatant” was pretty weaselly, since they could have just as easily been called “unlawful combatants,” using the terms of the Geneva Conventions, which would have made it obvious that they were deserving of none of the protections of those accords. Still, what was truly problematic about the phrase–if they’re on the battlefield, shooting at you, is it not obvious on its face that they are enemies and combatants?

Carlin was a liberal. So was Stanley Kubrick, who included this bit of dialogue in “Full Metal Jacket”:

Lt. Lockhart: [reading] … we have a new directive from M.A.F. on this. In the future, in place of “search and destroy,” substitute the phrase “sweep and clear.” Got it?
Private Joker: Got it. Very catchy.

Carlin and Kubrick knew what Rush Limbaugh says: “Words mean things.” That’s nothing new. George Orwell knew it decades ago when he wrote 1984. Newspeak wasn’t just a language, it was a way to influence people’s minds and instill the party line. A language that grew smaller in vocabulary every year, it was designed to make a person not think.

It’s not just Obama, since I’m apparently a Coughlinite and an a$$hole according to some of my six readers for dissenting from him. It’s Congress. If the left had a problem with the PATRIOT Act, what is someone like me to make of:

  • The Employee Free Choice Act, which takes away the secret ballot from workers?
  • The Freedom of Choice Act, which mandates abortion be the law of the land, regardless of what individual states’ voters may think of it?
  • The Blair Holt Firearm Licensing and Record Sale Act, designed to take 2nd Amendment rights away from law-abiding citizens and named after a youth murdered in Chicago in 2007. That’s Chicago, folks, where it was already illegal for Mr. Holt’s killer to own a handgun. Imagine that–the law not stopping a criminal from doing as he pleases.
  • The Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act, which in part funds a study on whether “volunteerism” should be made mandatory

I like words. I’m not as good a writer as I’d like to be, but I try to be clear. I also like to know what a person means when they say something. This new language seems designed to obfuscate and deflect, to invert meaning in much the same way that “freedom is slavery” and “war is peace.”

Oh well, I guess we’ve always been at war contingency operations with Eastasia. I’m off for some Victory Gin.


One Response to “Doubleplusungoodthink”

  1. teresa said

    I think you write very well.

    From your seventh reader.

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