corporate and government propagandists? Too often reporters and editors
don't wonder enough. They ditto the words even when the result is
deception or doubletalk.
Here are some examples. Day in and day out we read about "detainees"
imprisoned for months or years by the federal government in the U.S.,
Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan. Doesn't the media know that the
correct word is "prisoners," regardless of what Bush, Cheney and
The raging debate and controversy over health insurance and the $2.5
trillion spent this year on health care involves consumers and
"providers." How touching to describe sellers or vendors, often
gouging, denying benefits, manipulating fine print contracts, cheating
Medicare and Medicaid in the tens of billions as "providers."
I always thought "providers" were persons taking care of their families
or engaging in charitable service. Somehow, the dictionary definition
does not fit the frequently avaricious profiles of Aetna, United
Healthcare, Pfizer and Merck.
"Privatization" and the "private sector" are widespread euphemisms that
the press falls for daily. Moving government owned assets or functions
into corporate hands, as with Blackwater, Halliburton, and the
conglomerates now controlling public highways, prisons, and drinking
water systems is "corporatization," not the soft imagery of going
"private" or into the "private sector." It is the corporate sector!
"Medical malpractice reform" is another misnomer. It used to mean
restricting the legal rights of wrongfully injured people by hospitals
and doctors, or limiting the liability of these corporate vendors when
their negligence harms innocent patients. Well, to anybody interested
in straight talk, "medical malpractice reform" or the "medical
malpractice crisis" should apply to bad or negligent practices by
medical professionals. After all, about 100,000 people die every year
from physician/hospital malpractice, according to a Harvard School of
Public Health report. Hundreds of thousands are rendered sick or
injured, not to mention even larger tolls from hospital-induced
infections. Proposed "reforms" are sticking it to the wrong people—the
patients—not the sellers.
"Free trade" is a widely used euphemism. It is corporate managed trade
as evidenced in hundreds of pages of rules favoring corporations in
NAFTA and the World Trade Organization. "Free trade" lowers barriers
between countries so that cartels, unjustified patent monopolies,
counterfeiting, contraband, and other harmful practices and products
can move around the world unhindered.
What is remarkable about the constant use of these words is that they
permeate the language even if those who stand against the policies of
those who first coin these euphemisms. You'll read about "detainees"
and "providers" and "privatization" and "private sector" and "free
trade" in the pages of the Nation and Progressive magazines, at
progressive conferences with progressive leaders, and during media
interviews. After people point out these boomeranging words to them,
still nothing changes. Their habit is chronic.
A lot of who we are, of what we do and think is expressed through the
language we choose. The word tends to become the thing in our mind as
Stuart Chase pointed out seventy years ago in his classic work The
Tyranny of Words. Let us stop disrespecting the dictionary! Let's stop
succumbing to the propagandists and the public relations tricksters!
Frank Luntz—the word wizard for the Republicans who invented the term
"death tax" to replace "estate tax" is so contemptuous of the
Democratic Party's verbal ineptitude (such as using "public option"
instead of "public choice" and regularly using the above-noted
misnomers) that he dares them by offering free advice to the Democrats.
He suggests they could counteract his "death tax" with their own term
"the billionaires' tax." There were no Democratic takers. Remember,
Using words that are accurate and at face value is one of the
characteristics of a good book. Three new books stand out for their
straight talk. In Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a
Two-party Tyranny, Theresa Amato, my former campaign manager, exposes
the obstructions that deny voter choice by the two major parties for
third party and independent candidates. Just out is Empire of Illusion:
The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Pulitzer Prize
winner, Chris Hedges. Lastly, the boisterous, mischievous short
autobiography of that free spirit, Jerry Lee Wilson , The Soloflex
Story: An American Parable.
Not withstanding their different styles, these authors exercise semantic discipline.