Finding meaning (Buy a dictionary, people!)

And where's the Pepto-Bismol? Editorial cartoon by Gary Varvel, Indianapolis Star.

And where’s the Pepto-Bismol?
Editorial cartoon by Gary Varvel, Indianapolis Star.

The conventions are over, and for that I’m truly grateful. Now if only the nausea will go away … a summer IBS flare-up and political conventions do not a happy tummy make.

I’m sure fact-checkers are happy they’re over, too, though now all the hyperbole and blatant untruths from prevaricators on both sides are kicking into high gear for the general election.

Oh, joy. Wake me on Nov. 9, please. Preferably with chocolate waffles.

Donald Trump managed to hijack both conventions, in a way, which he probably intended … though not how it occurred. If one word could be associated with the Republican convention, it just might be “plagiarism,” a word that likely wouldn’t have been as big a deal if his campaign had just quickly owned up to the sampling of Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech.

And they say he's not an environmentalist ... Editorial cartoon by Adam Zyglis, Buffalo News.

And they say he’s not an environmentalist …
Editorial cartoon by Adam Zyglis, Buffalo News.

For the Democratic convention, the word might be “sacrifice,” thanks to the response by Trump to Khizr Khan’s speech about Trump’s past comments on Muslims.

Yeah, trust a word nerd to find a way to make it about words, but seriously, there are quite a few people who need to buy a dictionary, pronto … or at least make use of sites like onelook.com, which aggregates multiple dictionaries. They obviously have no concept of what those two words actually mean.

For almost two days after Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican convention until the speechwriter stepped forward and apologized, the campaign and its supporters swore there was no plagiarism, and that the words and phrases used were common. True, they were common words and phrases, but assembled as they were, almost word for word and in the same order, and with no attribution to the “inspiration,” it was plagiarism.

Yeah ... words ... and stuff ... Editorial cartoon by Marshall Ramsey, Clarion-Ledger.

Yeah … words … and stuff …
Editorial cartoon by Marshall Ramsey, Clarion-Ledger.

Oxford defines plagiarism as “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.” Politicians have been caught before—Joe Biden, for one. Biden faced the consequences, having to drop out of the 1988 presidential race after it was discovered that he’d appropriated British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock’s life story as his own.

In college, plagiarism can easily result in failure of assignments and/or courses, loss of scholarships, suspension or expulsion. In journalism, writers have lost their jobs—the Richmond Times-Dispatch just last week severed its ties with freelance food writer Elliott Shaffner, who, according to Times-Dispatch Executive Editor Paige Mudd, had copied from a 2011 L.A. Weekly restaurant review in a recent piece. Upon further investigation other Shaffner reviews were found to have plagiarized material, and the work was pulled from the newspaper’s website. Shaffner has apologized and acknowledged what she did.

Melania’s speech with a couple of lifted paragraphs wasn’t really that big of a story, though, especially considering that she’s not running for anything. It was the strange denials, defenses and misdirections (the Hillary campaign pointed it out first, not that laid-off reporter!! She’s a big meanie!!!!) that made it news fodder.

Ah, the Melania Rick Roll ... classic ... Editorial cartoon by Clay Jones, claytoonz.com.

Ah, the Melania Rick Roll … classic …
Editorial cartoon by Clay Jones, claytoonz.com.

Way to overshadow the nomination, guys! Top drawer! And by the way, Donnie Jr., no, Barack Obama did not plagiarize your “That’s not the America I know” line, which actually is a common phrase utilized by countless politicians (including Obama in earlier speeches), and was used in a different context. But you keep dreaming, buddy; you’re the best (at least according to other people named Trump)!

Just as the Trump camp made the plagiarism story much bigger than it needed to be, Trump’s reaction to Khan’s comments have caused the story to have staying power, especially since Republican leaders—not just Democrats—are offended.

When Khan said Trump had “sacrificed nothing and no one,” Trump’s response was to say he had sacrificed by creating jobs and building “great structures.”

I'm alive and a winner! Editorial cartoon by John Darkow, Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune.

I’m alive and that makes me a winner!
Editorial cartoon by John Darkow, Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune.

Uh, that’s not what “sacrifice” means, Donnie-boy. A sacrifice, according to Wordsmyth, is “the surrender of something valuable or beloved as an act of devotion or in exchange for some perceived higher good.” If he had built those structures at cost, as did Springdale contractor Fadil Bayyari, who built Temple Shalom of Northwest Arkansas, then perhaps there was sacrifice; similarly, if he had forgone his salary or a part of it to create jobs, that would be sacrifice. (Has he? Who knows?)

As is his habit whenever he’s challenged, Trump has assailed Khan and his wife, and tried to cast himself as a victim. Because all those divisive and often false things he’s said about Muslims shouldn’t be challenged. Khan has “no right” to respond to that; only Trump has the right to free speech. (Perhaps someone should let him know that this isn’t North Korea and he’s no Dear Leader.)

He's so right ... he's sacrificed lots of good taste. Editorial cartoon by Andy Marlette, Pensacola News-Journal.

He’s so right … he’s sacrificed lots of good taste.
Editorial cartoon by Andy Marlette, Pensacola News-Journal.

Trump and his advisers and followers have cast aspersions on the Khans’ motivations (they’re just using their son as a political tool, said New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro—the same guy who called for Hillary Clinton’s execution—and others) and activities (because he’s Muslim, Khizr must be a Muslim Brotherhood agent, so sayeth the Shoebats, no proof needed). Ghazala Khan’s silence during the convention speech was obviously because she wasn’t allowed to speak due to Muslim strictures … because it couldn’t possibly be that she’s still mourning her son Humayun after 12 years. As she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed printed Sunday, “Walking onto the convention stage, with a huge picture of my son behind me, I could hardly control myself. What mother could?”

Apparently among the things he's sacrificed is a sense of common decency. Editorial cartoon by Adam Zyglis, Buffalo News.

Apparently also among the things he’s sacrificed is a sense of common decency.
Editorial cartoon by Adam Zyglis, Buffalo News.

The right thing to do—no matter the person—would have been to acknowledge the grief the Khans feel, honor the sacrifice their son made in saving his platoon members, and move on. But Trump doesn’t exactly take criticism well, especially when his critics don’t back down.

Now, the Wall Street Journal reports, the campaign is trying to move on, but GOP and veterans’ denouncements are making that difficult. Brian Duffy, national commander-in-chief of the VFW, released a statement Monday saying, “Election year or not, the VFW will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member for exercising his or her right of speech or expression. There are certain sacrosanct subjects that no amount of wordsmithing can repair once crossed.”

Except he wouldn't do it ... he'd "suggest" that it happen. Editorial cartoon by Steve Benson, Arizona Republic.

Except he wouldn’t do this … he’d “suggest” that it happen.
Editorial cartoon by Steve Benson, Arizona Republic.

I’ll be charitable and assume that Trump doesn’t understand that you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. These things can happen when you live in an alternative reality.

For now it’s obvious that he will continue to decry the treatment he’s getting (and true to form, he’s pettily refusing to endorse Paul Ryan and John McCain, both of whom castigated him for the Khan attack).

Back home, I think they’d say that that’s what you get for being tacky.


A very kind reader and fellow word nerd (though he’s not a fan of the term) sent me a long, sweet and funny letter this week that reminded me just how much I love words. So how about you? What words do you love or love to hate? Let me know and I may feature it in a future column.

Lord knows I could really use a break from the political world and the people who inhabit it.

Yea! Go, giant monster! Eek! by Scott Nickel.

Yea! Go, giant monster!
Eek! by Scott Nickel.

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2 thoughts on “Finding meaning (Buy a dictionary, people!)

  1. Elsewhere, I have tried to clarify the issue of Donald Trump’s sacrifices.

    Trump HAS Made Sacrifices

    He sacrificed American jobs by outsourcing.

    He sacrificed subcontractors by not paying them.

    He sacrificed investors in his enterprises.

    He sacrificed bankers who loaned him money.

    He sacrificed students’ dreams with Trump U.

    The list goes on . . .

    Like

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