In two days, a new year will be here, and you know what that means.
No, not resolutions, at least not from me. I don’t do resolutions because I don’t like breaking promises. What it means for me and my word-nerd friends is Lake Superior State University’s annual list of words that should be banished. I’m still waiting for past entries like “transitioning” (verbing in general, really) and “junk science” to meet their deaths.
But since that list is still to come, I’ll have to amuse myself … perhaps with my own short list of words that I really would prefer not to see again, if just because people have the tendency to use them incorrectly, especially in the world of politics.
Ø Persecution—Webster’s defines this as “the act of continually treating in a cruel and harmful way.” Other definitions add in the elements of abuse, unlawful coercion of liberty and unlawful punishment, which is generally what reasonable people mean when they talk about persecution. For the unreasonable, however, that apparently includes any unkind words or negative feedback … and sometimes even positive feedback, when it’s not in what they see as glowing terms.
I never realized that the constructive criticism I and other voice students received in college for recitals (with what we did well and what we could improve) was instead persecution. That casts a whole new light on my college years. I should be offended … I guess. How dare someone say my breath control wavered a little!!!!
Persecution does indeed happen, but in the U.S., not quite as much or to the degree some would have you believe. In a Forbes column on the persecution narrative (especially as used by Ted Cruz), Rick Ungar wrote:
“In truth, even the most ardent evangelical should be able to summon the logic required to realize that using the Constitution to resolve disagreements and conflicts between Christian beliefs and the belief structures of their fellow Americans who think differently is hardly an act of persecution. Rather, these efforts are simply an act of fealty to our founding document and the men who wrote it—most of [whom] were, themselves, Christian believers.”
In other nations, Christians and others are tortured, jailed and often killed for their beliefs, which is true persecution. Equating what those people go through for their beliefs with dissenting opinions, or having to follow the same laws everyone else must follow to protect all of our rights, or a store clerk saying “happy holidays” devalues their sacrifice … and makes columnists cranky.
Ø War—Closely related to the persecution angle, “war” is overused and misused so much that it’s nearly lost all meaning. The “war on Christmas” is perhaps the biggest offender, but other (often pundit-backed) phony wars have made the rounds and offended reasonable people.
Of course, Bill O’Reilly and other pundits make big money off offending reasonable people, so “war” is big business.
Real war, as I’m sure most veterans would agree, is far removed from the rhetorical sort that breaks out like the measles every time a special-interest group is offended. That’s one of the reasons many World War II vets like my grandpa didn’t really talk about their experiences much if they didn’t have to. In real war, people die and nations are wrecked; in rhetorical war, it’s generally only feelings (and common sense) that get wrecked.
Dial back that war talk and maybe I won’t be tempted to smack you. Or declare rhetorical war on you.
Ø Politically correct/incorrect—I’m not a fan of the euphemism epidemic used to whitewash language (I’m short and fat, not weight- and height-challenged). However, I’m even less of a fan of the “politically incorrect” who claim that label as an excuse to eschew civility and, quite often, truth—don’t get me started on the myth of the politically correct elite stifling debate. Yes, the politically correct do this, too, but it seems to a lesser extent, particularly on the part of civility. Climate change, guns, race, religion—if it’s a hot-button issue, it’s all mere fodder, and facts don’t matter; whatever the opposition believes is obviously false despite the presence or lack of conclusive evidence. Ideology is king.
I say the king should be deposed.
Ø Vitriol—I see this one misused far more than I’d like, especially when someone responds to criticism he’s deemed to have been vitriolic … basically because it’s criticism. Yes, vitriol is criticism, but a very specific type, not just any criticism at all. Webster’s defines vitriol as “harsh and angry words” or “something felt to resemble vitriol especially in caustic quality; especially: virulence of feeling or of speech.”
Pointing out that Donald Trump’s rhetoric is short on solutions isn’t vitriol; the reaction of his true believers to such criticism, however, usually full of personal insults that have nothing to do with the subject … yeah, that’s vitriol. For more evidence of true vitriol, check out just about any online comment board, especially on anything political.
Dana Milbank of the Washington Post was recently a target after a column he wrote including the statement: “Let’s not mince words: Donald Trump is a bigot and a racist.” The reaction he got from Trump supporters on Twitter, by email and on comment boards was so over the line that it’s mostly unprintable in our newspaper. Milbank, a couple of weeks later, wrote a follow-up column exposing the vitriol (because that’s what it was—one of the tamer ones was “Milbank is an anti-white parasite and a bigoted kike supremacist”). He noted that while social media and comment boards have the tendency to be pretty dark places, the reaction here seems extraordinary:
“This is the seventh presidential campaign I’ve covered in some form over 25 years, and harsh criticism comes with the territory. But the Trump-backers’ venom is without precedent. His supporters surely aren’t all bigots—but he is bringing the bigoted in from the cold.”
Milbank asked, “Is this what you want conservatism, the Republican Party and America to be?”
According to some of the comments on that column, apparently that is what some want it to be.
Civility is spinning in its grave right now.
These are just a few of the words that irritate me, and I’m sure many of you have your own words that fall on your ears like fingernails on a blackboard.
There are probably also words that, if you could write a love song to them, you would (you know me and my love for “persnickety” … and “amok” … and “discombobulated”).
Share your favorite and least favorite words in online comments on the Democrat-Gazette site or on my blog, by email, or in old-fashioned snail mail, and I may feature them in a future column.
I find shared suffering seems to help in coping with horrible, horrible words.