Misused words and the power of language


Re “What Orwell saw,” Opinion, May 1

Brooke Allen makes compelling arguments for the power of symbolic language to evoke emotional responses unfettered by reason and empirical evidence. In the 1960s and beyond, many believed Orwellian “doublespeak” applied solely to the political right, to further its agenda.

However, the political left appears to have raised “doublespeak” to high art. An equal opportunity/affirmative action employer is perceived positively. But how can such an employer be “blind” to racial or gender characteristics while also giving preference to those having certain surface features? Racial profiling in law enforcement is bad, but racial profiling in employment is good. “Leveling the playing field” sometimes means lowering standards to include those formerly underrepresented in academia and the workforce. Anyone questioning the validity of such language is dismissed as racist, sexist, ethnocentric and the like.





I would like to add “win” to the misused and meaningless words and phrases listed by Allen. It can be useful and clear in certain contexts, but when politicians speak of “winning the war” in Iraq, I don’t know what they are talking about.

“Victory” is another matter. “Victory” is what will be declared by the Bush administration whenever it decides to bring our military home. This will depend on nothing the U.S. has or hasn’t achieved in Iraq. President Bush will declare “victory” because admitting defeat is simply out of the question. In this way, “victory” and “defeat” become synonyms.




Karl Rove and his wordsmiths in the Bush administration have moved language far beyond George Orwell’s nightmare. Even Orwell could not have dreamed up the Clear Skies Act (which allowed increased pollution from industry), the Healthy Forests Initiative (which allowed the lumber industry to devastate previously protected areas) or Operation Iraqi Freedom (initially called Operation Iraqi Liberation until some shrewd insider realized just in time that the acronym for that clever twist of language was OIL). Clearly Rove and company have a deep understanding of the power of language.


Del Mar