A.J. DiCintio
Language: a canary in the coal mine (Part One)
By A.J. DiCintio
May 19, 2009

The poor canary: Blessed with a beautiful song, he is cursed by an extreme sensitivity to carbon monoxide.

So it was that coal miners carried him to work, where they heeded him strict of ear and eye; for if he stopped singing — or worse, dropped dead off his perch — they didn't waste time taking another breath before rushing to escape their hellish workplace with the speed of the proverbial bat.

In addition to the canary that saved many a miner's life, humanity is blessed with numerous other alarms. Language, for example, warns about the health of our entire culture.

However, like the yellow singer, language cannot force anyone to heed its warning — even when it is poisoned by big lies and other linguistic perversions that are accepted as truth or go unchallenged by the majority of the public.

Now, in every culture, the most dangerous poisoners of language are the gasbags called politicians, a fact George Orwell captured beautifully when he wrote that the politician's reason for being is "to make lies sound truthful . . .and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

Worse yet, politicians "never waste a good crisis." Therefore, during turbulent times they spew especially great volumes of their poison, counting on a frightened, angry, confused public to accept demagoguery as serious thought and "pure wind" as something real, while remaining oblivious of the canary.

Sadly, that is exactly what is going on during the current "Great Recession" as evidenced by the following examples of corrupt and corrupting language that ought to be causing a huge national uproar but are not.

Overseas contingency operation

Although this cowardly euphemism endangers the culture by promoting a particularly dangerous denial of reality, President Obama has accepted it as a replacement for "War on Terror," apparently because he considers any phrase with the words "war" and "terror" in it too harsh to properly describe the fight being conducted against psychopathic murderers who hate human rights, science, and progress but love theocratic fascism, death, and misogyny.

Moreover, millions of liberals heartily agree with Obama, including those who argue that because war is dead, "war" must also die. Therefore, with the federal bureaucracy, the elite media, and institutions of "higher" learning all marching in liberal lockstep, we can only hope great numbers of the public heed the canary before much worse happens than sentences such as the following becoming all the rage.

"Alexander the Great conducted an overseas contingency operation against the Persians."

"The Bible says, 'To every thing there is a season. . .a time of overseas contingency operations and a time of peace.'"

"On December 8, 1941, the United States initiated overseas contingency operations against Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany."

"War is hell, but not an OCO."

Man made disaster (soon to be shortened to MMD)

This euphemism for "terrorist act" and, apparently, "genocide" is a dangerous, cowardly, staggeringly insulting piece of moral and intellectual garbage that attempts to sugar over unspeakable acts of violence.

However, in one of the most astonishing ironies of all time, it was coined by the nation's Secretary of Homeland Security, who praised it as a "nuance" that "demonstrates [the administration's] move away from the politics of fear."

Despite this sulfurous blast in the Obama administration's War on Reality and the nonchalant reaction to it by Democratic leaders and much of the public, there is hope that statements such as the following will — before it is too late — cause huge numbers of Americans to militate for much more than a certain cabinet member's resignation:

"Thousands of lives were lost in the man made disasters that struck both towers of the World Trade Center."

"India was shocked when a man made disaster caused deaths and havoc in Mumbai."

"Six million souls perished in the man made disaster that occurred in Germany during the thirties and forties."

"The man made disaster that happened in Rwanda caused the deaths of 8,000 human beings daily for 100 consecutive days."


Asked to define what is and is not torture, many people might resort to the tactic Justice Potter Stewart used to define pornography. "I know it when I see it."

Obama et al., however, don't have to resort to the "Stewart Rule" because even regarding the interrogation of suspected terrorists, they define torture as anything a liberal activist judge construes as "degrading treatment" (U.S. Army Field Manual).

According to recent Pew Research polling, 75% of Americans don't agree with the liberal view, saying that they favor using "torture" (undefined in the poll) "often, sometimes, [or] rarely" to gain "important information" from suspected terrorists.

Certainly, that landslide majority would be willing not only to define the kinds of "torture" they find appropriate but also to tell us if they take proportionality into account in deciding what "torture" they approve of.

For example, they may condone a relatively mild form of "torture" in some cases, harsher methods in others, and very harsh methods in cases in which the lives of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions are on the line.

But once again liberals don't have to expend any mental energy thinking and discriminating; for like the pacifists whom Orwell termed "objectively pro-Fascist," they are "absolutely anti-torture" even if, at times, it means being "objectively pro-terrorist."

But there's the rub because liberals who fulminate about "torture" and punishment for "torturers" of the Bush administration just can't come up with a few honest words of Plain English that admit the consequences of their absolutist position. Neither can they find words to be honest about its extreme minority status.

For example, have you ever heard Obama or one of his liberal allies speak in language as simple and direct as this?

"Any form of torture whatsoever, including subjecting a prisoner to changes in room temperature or to waterboarding with a doctor present, runs afoul of our values — yes, if a hundred thousand lives were at stake, even a million."

Of course you haven't. But ad nauseam you have heard Obama repeat the phrase "our values" when speaking about torture, without ever being honest about the fact that he is speaking of "his values," that are held by only 25% of the public. (source: Pew Research)

We see, then, that one of the good things to come out of the Torture Debate is the lesson that politicians pervert language most perniciously not by what they say but what they fail to say.

That latter moral and linguistic sin plays a prominent role in Part Two, which will examine the current administration's lies of omission regarding domestic issues.

© A.J. DiCintio


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

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A.J. DiCintio

A.J. DiCintio posts regularly at RenewAmerica and YourNews.com. He first exercised his polemical skills arguing with friends on the street corners of the working class neighborhood where he grew up. Retired from teaching, he now applies those skills, somewhat honed and polished by experience, to social/political affairs.


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