Since the dawn of the twentieth century, words have been especially susceptible to the hammer blows of fashion and ideological propaganda. The all-time master word-smiths (in the sense of my metallurgical metaphor—i.e., forgers of language) have been the leaders and apparatchiks of the former Soviet Union, who knew all too well that the abuse of power begins with the abuse of ordinary discourse. The Soviet Ministry of Information could always be depended upon to disseminate misinformation. As in Orwell’s Animal Farm or Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, war in Communist-Speak meant peace, peace meant war, wealth meant poverty, the dictatorship of the proletariat meant servitude, national liberation meant colonial enslavement, democracy meant tyranny.
Notwithstanding the collapse of the Soviet Empire, it is astounding how many of the perverted usages of International Communism have survived and conquered the supposedly victorious West, where they continue to be employed by the intellectual elites with much the same meaning, and absolutely no sense of irony, embarrassment, or regret.
The first three entries on the current list belong to this category. The next two exemplify the remarkable illiteracy of contemporary journalists. Then follow a few of the more amusing errors in contemporary usage.
“Progressive” is one of those terms of self-congratulation that have become popular, by no mere coincidence, since the beginning of the Me-Generation . It is the descriptor by which individuals and movements on the Left universally compliment themselves, notwithstanding that “progressive” was the quasi-official adjective used in the propaganda of the USSR to describe Soviet policy (e.g., the internment of dissenters in concentration camps, which, one supposes, was necessary for the “progress” of the Revolution). In the same way, post-Soviet “progressives” reason that multi-generational welfare-dependency, larger deficits, and the relentless growth of government and its powers, also contribute to “progress”.
One can’t argue with progress, of course; it follows that no one can argue with the proposals of “progressives”. Those who do so are “reactionaries”, who presumably espouse such ideas and policies as they do only because they think and hope that they will make things worse.
“Liberal” derives from the Latin adjective liber, meaning “free”. In the eighteenth century, a “liberal” was an advocate of the freedom of the individual, and especially, of his freedom from the tyranny of the State. By contrast, liberals today (as opposed to libertarians) invariably believe in government as a power for good, if not the solution to all our problems. In truth, they ought to call themselves “illiberals”; but like “progressive”, “liberal” is another term of self-approbation. Today, the only real “liberals” are reactionaries.
- Compassion and Greed
For liberals and progressives, “compassion” means being generous to the less fortunate, with other people’s money. Those few who now produce their own wealth, do not depend upon government (i.e., the taxpayer) for their sustenance, and wish to keep what they have earned, are “greedy”. All wealthy capitalists are greedy, except for Hollywood liberals, activist pop stars, and the fabulously—stratospherically–wealthy such as Bill Gates, George Soros, and Warren Buffett, all of whom advocate higher taxes for the “rich”, having already found a way not to pay them, or having so much money that raising taxes makes little difference to them. Members of public sector unions, government bureaucrats, community activists, arts groups, welfare recipients, and all other professional sucklings at the public breast (i.e., those who live at the expense of wealth-producing capitalists), when they demand higher wages, increased State funding, or more generous welfare benefits, are, by contrast, never greedy, but only appealing to the minimum standards of social justice and compassion.
- Cheek by Tongue, Tongue in Jowl,…Whatever
Commenting on the extraordinary architectural density of Lunenburg, N.S., the narrator of a TVO documentary observed that the houses had been built “teeth by jowl”.
- His and Hers
From an AP report in The National Post, Sat., June 28:
An official with the conservative Tea Party movement who was charged with conspiring to take photos of the wife of Mississippi Senator Thad Cochrane in her nursing home apparently killed himself Friday, police said, days after her husband beat off right-wing challenger Christ McDaniel to win the Republican primary…
He “killed himself…days after her husband beat off right-wing challenger…”? Even in this age of same-sex marriage, “he” can’t be married to “her husband”. Confused? So was I on the first several readings. The problem is the rather distant antecedent of “her”. But coherence is not to be hoped for from a graduate of journalism school.
Every politician promises to “grow the economy”. In terms of usage, this ugly phrase demonstrates that more and more people are now tone-deaf to idiom: i.e., the sometimes arbitrary and unfortunate fact that, in every language, certain words go together and others don’t. You can grow soybeans, roses, hair, a beard, a tail, or wings; you can grow proud, lazy, rich, tall, fat, or simply grow. But you can’t “grow” an economy.
“Reticent” means “taciturn”, “inclined to silence”, or “reluctant to communicate”. One can be reticent (i.e., reluctant) in relation to speech, but not action. When did reticent become a universal synonym for hesitant?
A recurrent malapropism for “deep-seated” that has spread tap-roots everywhere. One can, I suppose, sow seeds deeply (yielding “deep-seeded” crops), but the intended locution, “deep-seated”, has a different meaning.