Mind Your Words
We aren’t very careful with our words these days. That sentiment no doubt runs directly contrary to the widely accepted, or at least widely circulated, notion that our society is one of squishy liberals hell bent on wasting their days away by picking their words too correctly. Ours is a society mired in political correctness, so the thinking goes. I’m readily prepared to submit the opposite, that ours is a society far too flippant with its choice of words, and that they ought to be chosen quite carefully indeed.
Enter stage Right: Donald Trump. Our President-elect has won the most recent presidential election largely by appealing to those who are dog-tired of political correctness. “Why can’t we just say what needs to be said, like Trump?” they’re likely to have thought, if not said outright. “He tells it like it is,” as the now infamous line goes. Those sentiments have proven wildly popular with a great many people, as it turns out.
We liberals have done a piss-poor job of accurately labeling the President-elect. Fascist, demagogue, autocrat, neo-Nazi, dictator, authoritarian, jingoist, nativist, xenophobe, racist, bigot, monster, and so on and so forth. You get the point. The bottom line is we, and I do hope I’m not being unfair to liberals, just do not like the man in question. I’m reminded of a particular maxim often noted by my British literature professor: “There are no perfect synonyms.” For better or worse, I buy that. Courage and bravery aren’t exactly the same. Wonderful and excellent aren’t exactly the same. And the list goes on and on. We throw adjective around interchangeably all the damn time, and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Soldiers are brave and courageous. Coffee is wonderful and excellent. But the stakes are rather low on those two fronts, labeling wise. But what of when something, or someone, invokes so strong an emotion that exactly the right words needs to be applied to really hammer home the point? By applying all of the adjectives I listed previously to the President-elect interchangeably, all the piss and vinegar goes out of the meaning of the respective words. They lost all of their weight, their gravitas. When fascist and neo-Nazi merely invoke eye-rolls and shoulder-shrugs, then we’ve done a poor job somewhere.
All of the adjectives listed previously are being used presently to convey some sense of badness or vitriol. “Bad” and “horrible” are fine words for describing a long wait in line at Starbucks, or the rejection of long-pined after girl or guy. I’d even accept “apocalyptic.” But the really stiff drinks ought to be reserved for special occasions. If you have an Old-Fashioned every night, then what the hell’s the point of having one? Just have a whiskey neat or a damn Heineken. Something run of the mill. But enough of that. You get the point. I’d like to get down to brass tacks: I’ll now present the English language’s finest dictionary’s (Merriam-Webster) definitions of each of the words I presented earlier on as descriptors used on the President-elect, and you can all decide for yourselves which one is the real winner, and I shall do the same.
1. often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition
2. : a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control <early instances of army fascism and brutality — J. W. Aldridge>
1. : leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power
2. : a leader championing the cause of the common people in ancient times
1. : a person (as a monarch) ruling with unlimited authority
2. : one who has undisputed influence or power
1. : a member of a group espousing the programs and policies of Hitler’s Nazis
1. a : a person granted absolute emergency power; especially : one appointed by the senate of ancient Rome
1. b : one holding complete autocratic control
1. c : one ruling absolutely and often oppressively
2. : one that dictates
1. : of, relating to, or favoring blind submission to authority <had authoritarian parents>
2. : of, relating to, or favoring a concentration of power in a leader or an elite not constitutionally responsible to the people <an authoritarian regime>
1. : extreme chauvinism or nationalism marked especially by a belligerent foreign policy
1. : a policy of favoring native inhabitants as opposed to immigrants
2. : the revival or perpetuation of an indigenous culture especially in opposition to acculturation
1. : one unduly fearful of what is foreign and especially of people of foreign origin
1. : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2. a : a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles
2. b : a political or social system founded on racism
3. : racial prejudice or discrimination
1. : a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance
1. a . : an animal or plant of abnormal form or structure
1. b : one who deviates from normal or acceptable behavior or character
2. : a threatening force
3. a : an animal of strange or terrifying shape
3. b : one unusually large for its kind
4. : something monstrous; especially : a person of unnatural or extreme ugliness, deformity, wickedness, or cruelty
5. : one that is highly successful
Now, none of those are far off the mark. I do take issue with “neo-Nazi,” however. The President-elect has proven quite popular with those of the Hitlerian ilk and their spiritual cousins, the Klu Klux Klan and the like, but he himself doesn’t quite fit the Nazi mold. The rest all have quite a bit of validity to them, I think it’s fair to say, however. But my personal favorite is one that I haven’t yet listed: chauvinist. I think it covers all the bases, and is still constructed linguistically in such a way that really makes it pop off the tongue with a certain venom. Chauvinist.
1. : excessive or blind patriotism — compare jingoism
2. : undue partiality or attachment to a group or place to which one belongs or has belonged
3. : an attitude of superiority toward members of the opposite sex; also : behavior expressive of such an attitude
Doesn’t that seem to tick all the boxes?