I put Middle Earth Journal in hiatus in May of 2008 and moved to Newshoggers.
I temporarily reopened Middle Earth Journal when Newshoggers shut it's doors but I was invited to Participate at The Moderate Voice so Middle Earth Journal is once again in hiatus.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

War of the Words

I'd like to suggest that you take a few moments this weekend and visit with Brooke Allen at the Miami Herald. She has a spectacular piece on how politics, not just in this country but across the world, has corrupted language whenever the two have met. She also points out that George Orwell predicted this precise effect long ago in an essay titled "Politics and the English Language." Here's a few of the good bits, but the whole thing is worth a read.

''The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice,'' he wrote, ``have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another.''

The word fascism, he said, had no meaning 'except insofar as it signifies `something not desirable.' '' Other words Orwell said were generally used dishonestly included ``class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.''

The list hasn't changed much over the decades, except that today we don't hear the word bourgeois as often as we once did. There are a few new ones, though: heartland, terror, rogue state, liberal media, elitist, pork-barrel, entitlement programs. Both left and right have hypocritically sweetened their roles in the abortion debate with coy formulations: pro-choice and pro-life.

My favorite one is ''tax-and-spend Democrat.'' This is as opposed to what, one would like to know -- a borrow-and-spend Republican?

She goes on to do an in depth analysis of the roots and use of the two most overused, ultra-hyped words in the political landscape: liberal and conservative.

Conservative derives from the Latin conservare: to keep, guard, preserve. It became a political term in the late 18th century as a description of Edmund Burke's opposition to the French Revolution, and it was applied officially as a new, nonpejorative name to the former Tory Party in the 1840s.

Liberal derives from the Latin liberalis: noble, generous, pertaining to or befitting a free man, ultimately going back to liber, or free. To be liberal, traditionally, was to be generous and open-minded, concerned with the liberties of others. During the 16th and 17th centuries, liberality and liberalism began to be associated with being a little too free in thought and deed, but with the Enlightenment the word regained its purely positive sense: to be liberal was to be tolerant and free from prejudice.
Both of those words once had postive overtones to them. As Allen goes on to point out, it is likely that every single person on the country would like to associate the real meaning of both of those words with how they view themselves. We all have certain things we would like to conserve, and I'm sure everyone would approve of a world where positive change happened in a gradual, organic way as opposed to violent revolution. By the same token, I'm sure would all like to view ourselves as being generous, open-minded and concerned for the liberties of others.

Orwell was a real visionary, but so much of his legacy among political pundits is swallowed up by references to 1984 and Animal Farm you would think he'd never written anything else. I plan on going to the library (yes, believe it or not, there are still libraries in this day and age) and seeing if I can't find a copy of his entire piece, Politics and the English Language, and reading more.

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