Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Words Do Count

"We have needed to define ourselves by reclaiming the words that define us. They have used language as weapons. When we open ourselves to what they say and how they say it, our narrow prejudices evaporate and we are nourished and armed." - Selma James

There are enough reasons for using appropriate and politically correct language in speech and writing:

First, from a voluminous lexicon one can select an appropriate word, phrase, or metaphor to symbolize ones views and intentions in addressing any issue.

Second, by using a higher standard vocabulary one eliminates any unintentional meaning or misinterpretation.

Third, by using appropriate and meaningful expressions one provides the best example of communicating ideas and concepts.

Fourth, using slang, rather than colloquially acceptable vocabulary, is a lazy man’s shortcut to circumventing the need for a more meaningful explanation.

Of course, the visual media and talk radio depend on incendiary words and overheated talk as a tool to increase their readership/listenership because it attracts a certain personality type who feeds into this kind of discourse. As David Frum explains in his article, Waterloo: “Yes [overheated talk] mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination.”

This leads me to an article by Doug Giles, “Palin Says ‘Reload’ and the Liberals Have a Cow.” In his article for Townhall.com he attempts to justify Sarah Palin’s Tea Party proclamation, “Reload.” Mr. Giles states, “All of you of PC gods of gobbledygook have got to chill out on strangling our vocabulary to death with your egregious leaps to conclusions, or we are not going to be able to communicate any longer except through eye movements, hand signals and guttural grunts ….”

Perhaps Sarah Palin would be more effective communicating through eye movements and hand signals. Sarah Palin has associated herself with Fox News, Beck, Hannity, O’Reilly, and Limbaugh because her Facebook message -- “Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!”-- is the same egregious style they incorporate in their overheated and incendiary demagoguery to rile up their listening base.

Some say her remark was only metaphorical without a scintilla of understanding that there are Americans who will not know what metaphorical even means -- they do not understand the difference between figuratively and literally. Some only understand things in the literal sense. Some just do not have the capacity for critical analysis.

As a speaker, Sarah Palin should consider the diversity of interpretations, as well as the education of her audience, and consider how her words may be perceived. A wise man or woman, an Alaskan or Arizonian, perhaps most people may interpret her symbolization appropriately, while someone in the military, a militant, a hunter, or someone from the street might interpret it differently with egregious results.

To make it shoddier, in emphasizing the “reload” point, on her Facebook page she also posted a map highlighting Democratic districts that conservatives should target with the firearm crosshair symbol.

The essence of communication is the creation of understanding. A speaker sometimes may be communicating some very sophisticated and complex ideas or concepts to general audiences. It therefore behooves the speaker to be considerate of the symbols they employ.

We need America’s leadership, their spokespersons, or interlocutors, to serve people rather than prey on them; however that is exactly what Sarah Palin and her ilk do when they by design rather than in fidelity to their audience do not take the time to communicate properly.