Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Non-university English

Mark Steyn on Noam Chomsky (scroll down to Democrats Down a Hole, link will rot eventually):
Ask about the "silent genocide" he said was going on in Afghanistan in October 2001 and Noam replies, "That is an interesting fabrication." He doesn't deny that he used the words "Looks like what's happening is some sort of silent genocide"; he simply denies that the words mean what they appear to mean to anyone whose first language is non-university English.

Colby Cosh reacts to Liberal MP Sam Bulte's take on Continental missile defence:
"Personally I think that you'll find a lot of consensus among women my age, who are mothers and parliamentarians, that we're not interested in missile defence. All this weaponization of space, the reality is Mr. Bush has not said he's going to rule it out. ...I think we should be proactive, the same way we were in Iraq." - Ms. Bulte
Leaving aside the "weaponization of space" canard (and the horseshit about "mothers"), what strikes one here is the surprising redefinition of the word "proactive" as a synonym for "passive".

I understand this is not an original observation, but it ought to be articulated into a Law: If an argument is so nuanced that it requires that a common English word mean the exact opposite of what a dictionary says it means, then the argument shall reasonably be presumed to have no merit. Until I find out from someone that I inadvertently plagiarized it, I'm calling it Aldini's Disqualification Principle.

There are easily dozens of examples of this phenomenon in contemporary political discourse. Lobbying is equated by the Parliament of Canada to public advocacy. Democracy is redefined to mean "representative of gender and racial composition". The Jaggi Singh-types refer to poverty as violence, yet throwing bottles at cops is peaceful.

My old technical writing professor, Michael Jordan (seriously!), would be horrified. If you have a point to make, then damn well make it! Don't shroud it in a bunch of gobbledy-gook in an attempt to make it more palatable.

Restricting non-party, non-media speech during elections may be commendable (it's not), but argue that, don't call it lobbying when it is no such bloody thing. If more women and minorities in our legislatures is desirable, fine, but don't jury-rig the electoral process and call it a step forward for democracy. If there are injustices being committed toward the poor, let's hear about it, but don't call it violence: for one thing, it diminishes the suffering of those who are victims of actual violence, the kind a 5th-grader can identify.

And not least of all, these obfuscations deter ordinary intelligent people from getting involved as a citizen. Who wants to engage in a debate on the issues, when it's not even clear that the English language is common ground?

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