India Uncut

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Unspeak: the deceptive power of words

Ravi Venkatesh points me, via email, to an excellent article in Slate on Unspeak, "writer Steven Poole's term for a phrase or word that contains a whole unspoken political argument, deserves a place in every journalist's daily vocabulary." An example:
Pro-life supposes that a fetus is a person and that those who are anti-pro-life are against life, he writes. Pro-choice distances its speakers from actually advocating abortion, while casting "adversaries as 'anti-choice'; as interfering, patriarchal dictators."
In another article, Slate features more such examples contributed by readers, which include "affirmative action," "equal opportunity," "anti-war," "progressive," and "anything that contains the word agenda."

As for Indian examples, Ravi writes, "in India, referring to non-right-wing parties as secularists is similar - you are, by default, labeled non-secular if you don't support them."

Quite. Indeed, two examples that instantly come to mind are socialist and liberal. Not supporting socialism seems to imply that you don't care about society, while it is actually socialism that is harmful to society, especially the poorer members of it. And while liberal once did mean liberal, today, in the sense in which it is used in America, it is quite the opposite. Thus, I may be liberal and be against American liberals, and I may care about my fellow human beings but abhor socialism, but so pernicious is the Unspeak that those become difficult points to get across.

Also: do check out Steven Poole's blog. And you can buy his book here.

Update: On a related note, do read about "the triumph of euphemism."
amit varma, 12:21 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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