Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Taking Back Language

I've been having an ongoing conversation lately with Pat about the Republican appropriation of language in American political discourse. I.e., whereby the Republican agenda, simply by virtue of its purveyor's fine art of repetition and appropriate 'framing' (via talking points), is espoused before any actual content is presented (or at the expense of any content at all). For instance:

Well, frames are everywhere. Think of what happened on the very first day that George Bush took office. A press release came out using the words "tax relief." Now a linguist who looks at the word "relief" would say, "Ah-hah, there's a frame in which there is an affliction, an afflicted party who's harmed by this, a reliever, who takes away this affliction. And if anybody tries to stop them, they're a bad guy.

You add "tax" to that, and you get taxation is an affliction. And if the Democrats oppose the President's tax relief plan, they're bad guys

[. . .]

So the word "tax relief" goes out to every radio station, every TV station, every newspaper, day after day after day. Soon, everybody's thinking tax relief with the idea that taxation is an affliction unconsciously, automatically.

It is really easy, all too easy, to get frustrated about this, and simply to throw in the towel. Fortunately, though, we have people like George Lakoff to help make us a bit more aware of what is thrown our way. The more we're aware, the more we can actually be a bit less cynical (in the sense of bellyaching) and a bit more active in helping to reframe the issues that are important to us. Or, alternatively, it lends a bit more intelligence to our cynicism -- which is always helpful too.