“What do you read, my lord?”
“Words, words, words.” (Hamlet, Act II, scene ii)
I love words: big words (antidisestablishmentarianism) and small words (pi, zed); pretty words (desuetude, bucolic) and even ugly words (snot, phlegm).
What I don’t love is misleading words, doublespeak whose main purpose is to deceive or confuse. This being the silly season of political “debates” and speeches, I am reminded that misuse of language is among the worst propaganda devices available. Calling janitors “environmental superintendents” in lieu of giving them a decent raise doesn’t do them much good. When a fee is added on to a ticket price and called a “non-voluntary contribution,” what exactly does that mean? When congressional pay raises are called “pay equalizations” and a $130 billion budget error is labeled “positive budget variance,” is there any other purpose than to deceive? Can we wonder why voters are disengaged, throw up their hands and skip the ballot box?
We have an obligation, as lovers of words, to be precise in our language and to hold feet to the fire of those who seek to mislead, obfuscate, and otherwise disrespect us. We have an obligation to help students to think deeply, question, and make informed decisions. We have an even deeper obligation to do so ourselves.