“The worst thing one can do with words is to surrender them,” George Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language.” Orwell protested not just sloppy use of language, but intentional misuse of language for political purposes.
“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable,” he said. “Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.”
Politicians and dishonest media propagandists today use inaccurate language to frame narratives and foster a leftist perspective. Inadvertently, even well-meaning audiences sometimes internalize this language and end up propagating the very ideas and framing they fundamentally reject. Don’t let that be you.
In every debate, it’s vital to start by defining your terms. If conservatives want to counter the radical left’s agenda, we have to begin by using words that accurately reflect what we mean — not words that actively mean the opposite. Here are just 10.
1. ‘Mainstream Media’
The public communication cartel headed by The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, CBS, and MSNBC does not represent mainstream Americans. Earlier this year, Axios (another culprit of heavy-handed political spin) reported that 56 percent of Americans believe “Journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.”
Big Media has engaged in deception through false and misleading “reporting” on Georgia’s election laws, the trespass and unrest at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and more. Embracing “Russiagate” and the allegations of the Steele dossier against President Trump was one indicator of crumbling credibility. The cover-up of the Hunter Biden laptop story just before the 2020 presidential election was another.
Even more recently, CBS’s “60 Minutes” invented a scandal about Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, while giving minuscule coverage to New York Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cover-up of COVID-19 nursing home deaths his policies caused.
Leftist propaganda outlets who are running cover for Democrats and spreading inaccurate opposition research on conservatives don’t deserve to be called mainstream. Instead, use “Big Media,” “corporate media,” or — as DeSantis says — “smear merchants.”
2. ‘Gender,’ When You Mean ‘Sex’
Words have gender; people are one sex or another. For Latin and in many of the languages that have grown out of it, gender is a linguistic term indicating which word endings a term should possess. Gender is either feminine, masculine, or neuter. The phrase “la boulangerie,” for example, is French for “the bakery,” and its gender is feminine.
Male and female, on the other hand, refer to sex. Sex is a biological category that reflects a person’s physical characteristics and reproductive systems, and also manifests in certain broad behavioral differences that distinguish men and women.
3. ‘Sex-Reassignment Surgery’
Further, sex is not assigned, at birth or ever. If it is not “assigned,” it cannot be reassigned. Surgical procedures that remove or conceal the outward appearance of a woman or man’s reproductive organs, are most accurately described as genital mutilation or amputation.
4. ‘Democracy,’ When You Mean ‘Republic’
A democracy is direct rule by the supreme will of the people: the highest law is that of the loudest mob. Derived from the Greek “demos” (people) and “kratia” (power), democracy involves no higher law than popular consensus, and subjects the majority will to no checks and balances but itself.
In Book VIII of “The Republic,” Plato lists democracy as the social structure directly followed by tyranny. Democracy, Plato theorized, “comes into being when the poor, winning the victory, put to death some of the other party, drive out others, and grant the rest of the citizens an equal share in both citizenship and offices.” He continued, “that is the constitution of democracy alike whether it is established by force of arms or by terrorism.”
The American system was established as a constitutional republic. The highest law of the land is the U.S. Constitution, to which all public servants are (or should be) accountable. Additional laws are made by elected representatives of the people. Further, the American system is a federal republic, meaning power is divided between federal, state, and local governments, all of whom serve as the guarantors of the people’s sovereignty and rights.
5. ‘Abortion Doctors’ and ‘Abortion Clinics’
Doctors protect life; they don’t willfully take it. The Hippocratic Oath, written by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates and long respected as a noble description of a doctor’s vocation, includes a commitment to “not give to a woman an abortive remedy.” Doctors are also obligated to, as far as it is in their power, “do no harm.” (This phrase is commonly attributed to the Hippocratic Oath, but actually comes from another work of Hippocrates, his book, “Of the Epidemics.”)
Similarly, clinics are medical facilities where people receive help and care. We do not call the room in which a prisoner on death row is executed a “clinic,” and neither should we use the term to describe the place where preborn babies are killed and dismembered. Call abortionists and abortion facilities what they are.
Often, “antidiscrimination” policies actually refer to legal preferences based on sex, race, socioeconomic status, or some other category. The Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, for example, released an “Antiracist Agenda For Medicine” earlier this month that would provide “preferential care based on race” for black and Latino patients.
In another example of discrimination under the name of its opposite, Yale University unlawfully discriminated against white and Asian students, according to a two-year Department of Justice investigation. Instead of using the leftist buzzword “antidiscrimination” to describe these policies, call them legalized preferences, or simply the discrimination they are.
7. ‘Undocumented Immigrant’
“Undocumented” is the term used by people who don’t want to call breaking immigration laws “illegal.” However, most illegal immigrants have identification documents from their home governments. Further, 16 states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington — as well as Washington, D.C., issue drivers licenses to illegal aliens, giving them U.S. documents as well.
8. ‘Equity’ Or ‘Equality,’ When You Mean The Other
Equity and equality sound similar, but have widely different implications today. Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “equality” as “The same degree of dignity or claims; as the equality of men in the scale of being … an equality of rights.” The Declaration of Independence’s assertion that “all men are created equal” recognizes this equal value and dignity in personhood of each human being.
Equity has traditionally been a common legal term, referring to civil remedies; it can also mean the “impartial distribution of justice.” But in the jargon of identity politics, equity describes a policy that “recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.” See the above entry for “antidiscrimination” for an example of how equity-driven policies usually work.
Cisgender is an unnecessary word and assumes that sex is a result of human choice. A cisgender man is a man; a cisgender woman is a woman. Only added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015, “cisgender” was invented to represent the opposite of “transgender” in the 1990s.
“Pro-choice” is a euphemism to get around having to call yourself pro-abortion. But just as we don’t use “pro-choice” to describe supporting a person’s decision to murder another, we shouldn’t use it here. Abortion denies giving the unborn baby the choice to live; in that sense, it is violently anti-choice.
“This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases,” Orwell continued, “can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them.” Sloppy, inaccurate phrases will “construct your thoughts for you,” he says, and “perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.”
Don’t let corrupt media and politicians design your words and supplant your meaning. To win the culture debate, you better first define your terms.