Friday, October 25, 2013


Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck...
This postcard, which landed in my mailbox earlier this week, epitomizes, for me, an American tendency to feel that changing what you call something somehow changes the thing itself. There are a lot of times in which we use words that aren't intended so much as euphemism or idiom but as actual "alter egos" of a sort, for thing that is being referred to. Depending on which extreme of the political divide one sits on, for instance, the government of the United States is either "socialist" or "fascist." Libertarians are fond of referring to taxation as "theft." Or, less politically fraught, the fact that tomatoes are referred to (and legally classified) as "vegetables" based on how they are commonly used when, botanically, they are fruits.

Given how these linguistic inaccuracies are treated as truths or become de-facto truths in common usage, it's unsurprising that there are efforts to control the nature of political debates through getting particular language in front of the public early and then driving its adoption.

But, of course, a rose by any other name still being a rose, the actual thing itself is unchanged. "harvest carnivals" are still Halloween parties, and "Chinese checkers" is actually a German variant of an American game called "Halma," and the misnomers applied to them do alter that. The same is true in politics.

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