The Associated Press Stylebook, a once-respected linguistic guide for journalists, conceded the definition of the word “woke” to conservatives on Thursday, in an update instructing writers to “use quotes around the slang term.”
“Woke” was originally popularized by left-wing proponents of identity politics to flatteringly refer to their own “enlightenment or awakening about issues of racial and other forms of social justice,” as the AP explains. Conservatives have used it to describe those same people and their ideas.
Those ideas more often than not, demand revolutionary social changes that prejudge people based on their secondary physical characteristics. If, like the vast majority of America until about five seconds ago, you think such identitarian prejudices are a bad thing, you might use the word “woke” in a less than fawning manner. Apparently, the AP’s staff can’t handle that.
AP’s concession of the word is hilariously thin-skinned, but it’s also a rare win for conservatives in the war of words. Just by describing woke behavior as such, we’ve held a bit of ground against the unhinged language police who are mad that the right is using their terminology against them. Unintentionally, it seems we’ve ended up with command of the word altogether, if left-wing outlets like the AP are henceforth refusing to use it.
While there are times individual ideologies require a more specific description — queer theory, or socialism, for example — “woke” is a completely fair and often helpful term to use when speaking generally about the coalition of people on the left who want to see meritocracy replaced by identity politics. As my colleague Samuel Mangold-Lenett noted recently in these pages, “what other slogany-sounding word really works as a catch-all for what leftism has become?”
“They lost complete control of the English language,” he added, “and the word they used to indicate their radicalism to one another is being used to expose that radicalism to the rest of the world.”
The apparatus of left-wing media outlets, cultural celebrities, and tech platforms that drives our modern discourse has a majority share in defining the language we use. From headlines to search engines to literal dictionaries, activists manipulate the tools of debate. In any debate, the first step is defining your terms — if your definitions are off, you’ve already lost.
That’s why it’s incumbent upon conservatives to be intentional, honest, and straightforward with the words we use. That includes defending the legitimacy of disfavored-but-accurate terms (like “woke,” or “woman”) and refusing to use inaccurate language.
Take the nonsense phrase “gender-affirming care,” for example. The diction dictators have effectively standardized the term, to the point where even people who disapprove of such procedures will glibly repeat it. But nothing about the phrase is tethered to reality.
The whole idea that people have “genders” beyond their natural sex is pseudo-science crafted to further an ideology. Procedures that attempt to inhibit or reverse the physical realities of a person’s sex are not “affirming” that sex, but actively rejecting it. And deformative surgeries that involve amputating healthy body parts and creating Frankenstein-esque “penises” and “vaginas” with scraps of carved-up skin are certainly not “care.”
To use the phrase “gender-affirming care” is to give up the entire argument before it’s even begun. Or, as George Orwell put it, such nonsense terms “construct your thoughts for you,” and “perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.”
The same goes for using improper pronouns to describe sexually confused people: calling a man “she” or a woman “he.” Doing so indulges a delusion. Having physical reality on your side does little good if you concede it away by the very words you use.
The list of nonsense words that woke ideologues are injecting into common parlance is long. For starters, here’s a list of “10 Politically Correct But Factually False Words And Phrases To Stop Using Immediately,” and a follow-up list of eight more.
Concurrent with the effort to mainstream invented euphemisms such as “gender-affirming care” is an effort to cannibalize established English vocabulary. Other victims of the AP Stylebook’s recent crusades include “riot,” “mistress,” “crazy,” and “pro-life.” Proper grammar is also a victim, with the redefinition of the plural pronoun “they” to refer to individuals who are in denial of their natural sex.
Tech monopolies such as Google instruct their employees to avoid terms like “man hours” and “blacklist.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has nixed “criminal” and “foreigner.” From journalism to medicine, terms such as “mother” and “woman” are replaced by dehumanizing lingo like “birthing parent” and “person who menstruates.” Merriam-Webster has redefined “anti-vaxxer,” “sexual preference,” and “assault rifle” to further the editors’ ideological ends.
By describing woke ideologies and their fruits at face value, conservatives felled the left’s self-conferred monopoly on how, when, and where the term could be used. But the same people policing the word “woke” are appointing themselves the arbiters of the rest of the English language, too.
For those of us who prefer our words to reflect reality, there is nothing to be gained by good-naturedly going along with linguistic charades. On the other hand, there is the entire discourse to be lost.