“If the words are not right, what is said is not what is meant. If what is said is not meant, work cannot flourish, then customs and art degenerate. If customs and arts degenerate, then justice is not just. . . . Hence the importance that words be right.”
In “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell compared the loosening of language to a man drinking, failing, and blaming his drinking for his failure. ”The same thing is happening to the English language,” Orwell noted. ”It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”
In 2012, we are not awash in crap politicians with crap ideas — moon colonies and abolishing the Department of Education — because we, the people, are crap. No, we are tangled in this crappy campaign because we, the people, have let rhetoric slide, unchallenged, into the gutter. We have accepted the detachment of words from their meanings. “Socialist” is used as a synonym for “Maoist.” The most trivial government program is seen as “unbridled tyranny.” Metaphors have gone from provocative to incendiary to vile. And those wreaking linguistic havoc have not been challenged but rewarded with more attention, more votes, more money. (See “money” in the CED.)
Enough. Enough blind acceptance of terms mindlessly used in debates and echoed on cable news. Enough name-calling as common currency. Enough of Campaign-English as usual, unfettered, ill-defined, unconnected to reality. Here at Campaign-English Dictionary headquarters, I will spend from now until November 6 defining words according to what they really mean, not what a candidate, pundit, or journalist allows them to mean. Watch for new words to be added daily and for occasional posts to Better Angels, celebrating the best of American political speech.