Own the words and own their definitions


In political discourse certain words and their definitions are mini soundbites.  They are hooks onto which an argument can be attached and they are guides to direct the perspective of the opponent or the observer.  

New words and new meanings for existing words acquire a majority consensus for their respective definitions quickly which are difficult to alter.  Many of these definitions are specifically designed to hide or to distort. 

For example, alt-right” was invented as a tool to humanise and to downplay extreme-right racists, populist” was given a new definition that sought to obscure the extreme-right nature of the politics to which the word is applied, “gig economy” was invented as a jaunty neutral description of low paid, insecure, unsafe, unregulated employment with no statutory rights, and moderate” was given a new political definition that sought to describe nothingness as a viable entity while simultaneously implying anything else was immoderate.

There has been a recent fightback against new definitions being dominated by the right or the centre.  “Centrist dad,” “melt” and “gammon” have attained popularity alongside old favourite “Blairite” and its neighbour “bitterite.” 

It is vital that socialists continue to try to direct the definitions of politically charged words and phrases and eschew others’ definitions. 

Also, it is important to replace directional words or phrases with alternatives, with exactly the same meaning, in order to change subtly the emphasis of the description.  

An example of positive word replacement is to use “unprivatise” as an alternative to “renationalise.”   The words mean exactly the same but they can direct the listener or reader in different ways.  “Renationalise emphasises the act of a state taking control of a service forcefully and, thus, could be perceived negatively whereas “unprivatise” emphasises the removal of something and helps to posit the thing to be removed as negative.  “Unprivatise a public service” is a much more positive sounding action than “renationalise a private business” and it is a much more accurate description of the action.

When a socialist party becomes the government in Britain it will face obstructions to its aims.  These will include actions by High Court and Supreme Court, decisions by unelected quangos and procedural restrictions in parliament.  The deceptive phrase normally used for these obstructions is “check and balances” which depicts them as positive and harmless and also implies that an elected government cannot be trusted to govern without higher (unelected) powers interfering.  A better phrase to use to describe the obstructions is “legacy obstacles.”  This phrase highlights the obstructive nature of the non-democratic bodies and emphasises their historical nature, and, thus, implies that they are removable.

One of the most successful phrase replacements in modern British politics was “poll tax” replacing “community charge.”  This simple substitution helped to force changes to the tax and showed how powerful ownership of words is.

Own the words and own the definitions.

Related blogPolitical Glossary.

Own the words and own their definitions

4 thoughts on “Own the words and own their definitions

  1. Reblogged this on Guy Debord's Cat and commented:
    Words matter, and far too many people repeat the language that permeates the field of mainstream political and social discourse. The father of modern linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure, said that language is a “system of signs”. Words are like pictures, and when we think of a word, an image of the object comes to mind. Like me, George Carlin was interested in language and how it’s been used, some would say ‘hijacked’, by the dominant ideology to shape the way we see the world and ourselves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuEQixrBKCc

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