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March 12, 2009

Words, Words, Words, Nothing but Words

This is a follow-up on a discussion we started about the deleterious idea that one evolutionary biologist (EB) proposed to his fellow EBs. Because of unpleasant associations with the Intelligent Design group, this fellow wanted to eliminate the use of the word “design” to ensure that ideas about ID that don’t fit within the framework of his worldview would not be heard.

The "word" problem is much larger than the issue of biology and design. As Pointificator David says, "The...'abuse of language' is a problem that shows up everywhere. Whether done by ideological opponents, the government or 'Madison Avenue,' calculated manipulation via words is as reprehensible as it is common." David has a further point to make: "The careless use of language may actually cause more damage."

Words give meaning and purpose to our lives, but sadly, the words and their meanings that make a difference in the very way we live, like "freedom" and "dignity," have been slowly eroding as cultural sophists have been busy at work changing meanings of words. For instance, the word "truth" has been neutered to mean whatever you think it means. Christianity, from which we get our rights, has been vilified. The virtues (temperance, prudence, fortitude, justice, faith, hope, and love) have been eerily transposed into bad words. Other concepts like first principles and natural law are ideas that people simply don’t understand. 

I thought it might be prudent for all of us to start illustrating abuses of language abuses as we see them here at The Point.

In the meantime, here's an article about words that some say transcend the test of time. One of the most interesting parts of this article to me is that words about personhood have been around at least 30,000 years. 

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Glenn Sunshine

Have you ever noticed that when new evolutionary "discoveries" are made, or whenever evolutionists in general discuss their findings, they inevitably use the language of design? I don't know how often I've heard things like, "this was designed by evolution to ...." Even in denying design, they cannot describe their processes without recourse to the language of design.

Jason Taylor

"Righteous" has been changed into meaning "self-righteous".

"Fundamentalist" has become "murderous fanatic"

"Martyr", now means "Enemy casualty".

"Failed State" is a polite euphemism for "barbarians". Everyone knows that is what is meant, but no one is willing to use the word.

"Sensitive" means "whiney"

"Liberated" means "Unchaste".

"Cowardly" now means "Atrocious" instead of meaning, well, "cowardly." It is no longer PC to give a moral judgement implied in "atrocious", likewise it is no longer PC to assume someone must control his fear which would demand that he refrain from showing his feelings(see "sensitive").

"Dialogue" means, "A long and tedious discussion between people of irreconcilable opinions for the seeming purpose of making them remember to actively hate each other instead of ignoring each other."

"Courageous" now means, "Shockingly gross, or outrageously discourteous. Synonomous with "Controversial".

"Dissent": Reflexively loving your country's enemies above your country.

"Diplomacy": an attempt to convert international relations into a therepy session. Always preceded by a kowtow to a foreign tyrant. Bears only the vaugest resemblance to what Disraeli would have called Diplomacy.

"News Source": rat

"Relevance": Chronological Provincialism

"Ethnocentricity": People of occidental orgin taking interest in their own history.

"Orientalism": People of occidental orgin taking interest in other people's history.

"Intellectual": Obama voter. Distinguished by his capacity for squeezing a maximum of sylables into a sentence and his love of insulting others. Has no relation to actual intelligence.

"Anti-Intellectual": opposition to above. Also has no relation to actual intelligence.

Jason Taylor

Adult-themed: movie written primarily to be shown in a barracks.

Jason Taylor

"Speaking truth to power": speaking propaganda to impotance

Shannon K

Jason -

I like your list, particularly the "intellectual" and "anti-intellectual" entries. Looks like you have a good start on a new Devil's Dictionary! You remind me of the article by John Derbyshire in National Review a few years ago, in which he suggested the following:

judiciary, n. A body of citizens charged with making those laws that Congress has omitted to make.

marriage, n. An archaic institution for the oppression of women and the abuse of children, from participation in which homosexual couples are cruelly and unjustly barred.

simplistic, adj. Predicated on the belief, or apparent belief, that good and evil differ from each other in some fashion.

Jason Taylor

And for the sake of fair play:
"Western Way of War":Victor Davis Hanson's convicton that occidentals are always better fighters.

Rolley Haggard

Good discussion on a subject whose importance is difficult to overstate. Thanks to David for suggesting it, Kim for hosting it, and Jason Taylor, Glenn Sunshine, and Shannon K for enriching it.

There are so many ways to abuse language. One of them that I watch out for is use of the adjective, “so-called”. For example when someone says “so-called partial-birth abortion”. The sole and unavoidable effect of “so-called” is to cast doubt on the validity of the term “partial-birth abortion”. I am amazed how often it is used in newscasts and political speeches.

Another insidious convention is the use of quotation marks around a term that the user dislikes. This, of course, is most effective in written media. To borrow from the example above, if a writer leaves out the word “so-called”, but puts quotes around “partial-birth abortion”, the effect is the same. It infallibly conveys the idea that “partial-birth abortion” is a term used only by extremists with an agenda – as if the reporter in his/her use of the quotation marks has no agenda.

Imagine hearing this on the news –

“Shortly after euthanizing their two-year-old son due to economic hardship, the Smiths were met by a crowd of demonstrators protesting this so-called infanticide.”


“Critics called the drive-by shooting of Rush Limbaugh “murder””.

Those examples are purely fictitious, of course. But the way things are trending I wonder for how long.

I’ll be aggressively challenging and blowing the whistle on such disingenuous practices -- at least as long as holders-of-public-office and journalists remain so-called “respectable” occupations.

Jason Taylor

Thanks Shannon. In point of fact I did go over the top: this is after all a Christian site, not a specifically Conservative one and I could easily have started a flame.


Kim's other post about the CO2 issue has a link to an excellent discussion by a physicist. Toward the end of the piece, he describes a significant and important misuse of language:

"I keep hearing about the "pollutant CO2," or about "poisoning the atmosphere" with CO2, or about minimizing our "carbon footprint." This brings to mind another Orwellian pronouncement that is worth pondering: "But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." CO2 is not a pollutant and it is not a poison and we should not corrupt the English language by depriving "pollutant" and "poison" of their original meaning."

The "old words" article is interesting also. Kim remarked on the fact that words about personhood seem to have "staying power". I can easily imagine that the first word spoken in the Creation was "I" - first by the God who later identified himself as "I am", and soon after by Adam, saying, perhaps..."who am I?" And that personhood question has spawned a lot of words!

Jason Taylor

Religion: whatever it is it's something bad. Atheists are agin it, and Christians think that Christianity is a relationship and not(Horror of horrors, no!)a religion.

Organized Religion: Even worse.

Spirituality: mysticism existing on it's own. Always better then religion because it never requires you to actually DO anything.


Good call Rolley. "So called" and quotes are, as you say, insidious. The equivalent of quotes are deployed in speeach also; they take the form of a certain inflection that conveys condescension, or perhaps contempt.

Jason Taylor

Actually, Rolley as far as journalists being so-called respectable occupations, I once said that they are to street informants what courtesans are to prostitutes seeing as in both cases the former provides essentially the same service in a more refined way then the later.

Jason Taylor

Ike had a better definition for intellectual then I gave: "a person who uses more words then he needs to say more then he knows"

Jason Taylor

Closure: revenge

Exploitation: employment

Question Everything: Question everything except yourself

Tolerance: patronizing attitude toward everyone in the entire world.

McCarthyism: the concept that foreign intelligence services might actually be taking their vocation seriously.

Divided-loyalty: Jews being fond of Jews. Bears only the vaguest of analogies to Irish being fond of Irish, Italians being fond of Italians, and Chinese being fond of Chinese.

Self-esteem: The artificial reduction of the childrens capacity for controling their emotions.

Values: having a desire to be more honorable then Seinfield.

The People: A mythical institution of supernatural powers. Incapable of all sin or error.

Safety: a deity widely favored among occidentals. He and his hand maiden Health are regularly consulted by oracles determined to find the meaning of the cryptic messages sent. The devotees of the cult of Safety have among their precepts a demand for eternal holy war against the evil heretics who promote the blasphemous doctrine that in fact everybody dies.

Mafia: A mystical brotherhood devoted to the codes of honor and loyalty. Every ethnic group has it's own mafia: it is sort of like a flag. America is an exception to that. It's closest parralel is politicians.

Boy Scouts: A Fascist cult devoted to the bigoted concept that boys should be able to think about something besides sex.

Jason Taylor

Vatican: an evil, sinister, conspiracy determined to maintain the fanatical ideology that the teaching of the Church should differ somewhat from the teaching of the New York Times.

Victorian: self-righteously devoted to the concept that pigsticking, mountain climbing, exploration, war, sports, political intrigue, philanthropy, athletics, romance, scholarship, and travel are more interesting then locker-room talk.


I visited a college once that had dorms consisting entirely of individuals from a single ethnic group. For instance, there was one for African American men. For some reason, they decided that this should be called "Multicultural Housing."

Kim Moreland

Great illustrations folks. I'm thinking we might have the makings of a new dictionary.

Glenn, It makes one think that we were hardwired to believe a greater Being.

Benjamen R. Meyer

Or all the "political correct" speak - breaking English with terms like "his or her" instead of using the proper "their" just to be politically correct. (You don't have to use a specific gender, though in such cases linguistics usually put the masculine above the feminine; if you want to avoid the masculine there is always the third person. I find it a failure in those that teach the English language to ignore this aspect in linguistics.)

There are of course lots of other issues too. But 'pc' talk is the big one - the elephant in the room so to speak - that leads to a lot of these others as well, or at least paves the way for them to follow in.

Gina Dalfonzo

Benjamen, you've lost me. "His" and "her" are the third person. Did you mean "third person plural"? But when the antecedent is singular, that's not correct at all. In that case, "his or her" is perfectly appropriate. (I consider "their" to be more PC, as people will often use it wrongly in order to avoid the masculine pronoun.)

Jason Taylor

One difficulty I have with the PC rejection of the generic male is that it is often hard to find a replacement that fits speech patterns.

The other is that encouraging others to be pendantically offended is an insult in itself. Constant offense is in some ways a tacit admission of an inferiority complex and hence should not be encouraged. The conqueror doesn't get offended as much as the conquered and offense can be an admission of defeat. English and Turks are seldom offended. Irish and Balkans always are. Guess why?

Jason Taylor

Authority: someone else

Jason Taylor

Antiscience: the secularist counterpart to disrespecting Islam

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