Thursday, December 09, 2004

Euphemism and Dysphemism

Opinion Journal points out that the Democrats' excitement over Berkeley Linguistics Professor George Lakoff's new book, "Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate," is sure to increase sales of the book but is nothing to get worked up about:
OK, we think we see how this might work. "Abortion," for example, is such a harsh word; maybe Democrats could start calling it "choice" instead. Instead of saying they're for "racial discrimination" in favor of minorities, why not use a positive-sounding term like "affirmative action"? To try to make Republican judges seem menacing, the Dems could call them "extremist" or "out of the mainstream" (and if the judges happen to be black, add that their opinions are "poorly written").

You see the problem: It's not as if the Dems don't already do what Lakoff is recommending. Indeed, the supposedly groundbreaking insight this professor of linguistics and cognitive sciences is offering is nothing more than a commonplace of political rhetoric: Generally, it is good to describe things you're for in favorable-sounding terms and things you're against in unfavorable-sounding ones.

So Lakoff is advising the Democrats to do something they're already doing (and indeed that every politician does as a matter of course), and in ways that would be especially ineffective. And the Dems seem to be eating it up. One might say they've been taken in by a merchant of serpentine petroleum products.

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