George Orwell warned humanity in his novel 1984 that totalitarian governments of the future would mangle language to such an extent that the original meanings of words would become lost as history was rewritten, and words would at times even come to connote the exact opposite of their original meaning.
Pick up any random copy of a business press release, a mainstream newspaper, mass market magazine, or a government document, and you will be confronted with this mangling of language on a daily basis. The examples could fill an entire book, but here are some of the most egregious:
There are instances when dictionaries cause more confusion than clarity. Such is the case with ‘consensus.’ Most dictionaries define it as general agreement. But what the heck does the word ‘general’ mean in the definition? That’s open to interpretation. One dictionary says that it is an agreement shared by a majority while another says that it is an agreement shared by ALL. So, are we to say that consensus means 51% or greater, or does it mean 100% agreement? Most writers, reporters and bloggers today use it to mean a majority but when I was living in communities we always understood the word to mean agreement by everybody, no exceptions. Also, the phrases ‘growing consensus’ and ‘general consensus’ are meaningless. Authors, speakers and propagandists who attempt to gain traction for a theory or idea that they are trying to sell often use this word in an argumentum ad populum. This type of argument says ‘the majority believe it, so it must be true.’ Furthermore, it sounds more official and learned to say ‘there is a growing consensus’ than to say, ‘a majority of people believe…’
In my lifetime, no word has been more vilified and shredded than ‘anarchy.’ The word traces its roots back to ancient Greek. ‘An’ means without and ‘arkhos’ or ‘archon’ means ruler. So, anarchy means without rulers or without government. An anarchist is someone who doesn’t believe in government. Or, to put it in a more active form, an anarchist is someone who believes in ‘self-rule.’ Anarchism refers to the political theory while anarchy refers to the actual practice.
Over the centuries, further definitions were added on to the original. The second, third and fourth entries in dictionaries gave ‘disorder, chaos, confusion,’ and other scary words to associate with ‘no government.’
In the years that I have been reading and studying the media, mostly in the USA, I have NEVER seen anarchy used in any context but chaos, confusion, and violence. As soon as a riot breaks out somewhere, either as a result of a natural disaster or economic conditions , you can bet your life savings that a government spokesperson and television announcer will proclaim that there is a great danger of ‘anarchy.’
This is a pretty sad state of affairs, and it is nothing more than conditioning and programming of the masses. Governments have always been fearful of the idea of anarchy and have always tried to conflate anarchy and chaos. There was once a time, even in the USA, not too long ago when anarchy and anarchism were talked about seriously. Those days are long gone, and now we can only watch the spectacle of talking heads on television frothing at the mouth and shouting ‘anarchy!’
Few words in the English language can arouse emotion so quickly as ‘genocide.’ The word came into popular usage after World War II. Dictionaries, again, can steer us off course. Most state that it is ‘the extermination of a national, racial, ethnic, or cultural group.’ Does ‘extermination’ mean 100% of those members, a majority, or just a large number? The word has become so politicized now, and is such a favorite of dictators, propagandists, and speechwriters, that anytime a few thousand, hundred or dozen get killed- from a population of millions- someone is screaming ‘genocide.’ Not only is this not accurate and purposefully inflammatory, but it degrades the memory of groups and tribes who truly have been exterminated. Certainly, when large numbers of people are killed, we should mourn them, but rarely does the killing warrant the use of the word ‘genocide.’ Even many otherwise excellent and insightful political writers whom I read regularly abuse this word.
Welcome to the USA, post 9/11! Our government ‘leaders’ have dropped all pretense and shame, and now proudly proclaim WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. Such is the mentality of government warmongers and war profiteers that mercenaries are now called by the politically neutral and benign word ‘contractors.’ Even the word ‘mercenary’ does not truly do justice to the reality of murderers- for hire. Nowadays, our mainstream media blithely and sickeningly will only use contractor when talking about the thousands of Blackwater hit-men roaming the mountains of Afghanistan and the streets of Iraq. One can imagine if a reporter from the New York Times were to attempt to write ‘mercenary.’ He would quickly be reprimanded and reminded that news organizations don’t use that language anymore. The CIA says so.
I’ve often wondered how and why the word ‘house’ has almost completely disappeared from the English lexicon. As George Carlin so eloquently said, a home can be anywhere -the street, your friends couch, the road- and is more likened to a state of mind than a physical, tangible object. Most people are familiar with the idiom, “Home is where the heart is.” A house is a building, a dwelling that is usually built by a corporation and meant to be sold to a family or individual so that one day they can call it a home. These days, many people don’t even want to do that; they simply buy it as in ‘investment’, a profit making opportunity.
Pick up a newspaper, magazine, pamphlet, hand-out, or book and try to find the word house these days. It is almost impossible to find. Marketers and PR hacks discovered way back in the days of Edward Bernays that people resonated with the word home , much more than house . You are far more likely to put down a lot of money to buy a home than you are to buy a house. It all comes down to marketing.
News reporters have been sucked up into this nonsense. How many times have we seen a helicopter flying high over a devastated region after a tornado or hurricane and the reporter looks below at the shattered structures and houses and says, “There are so many destroyed homes…” Selling disaster for ratings.