Reclaiming the language

One of the key elements of debating I learned is that whatever side determines the language most often wins. We see this played out all the time — I think the most notable in the abortion issue, when one side portrays the two positions as “pro-choice” and “anti-choice,” while the other uses the terms “pro-life” and “pro-abortion.” Both sides argue that their position is the more accurate and simpler; I just use each group’s term for itself to avoid arguments.

But it’s not just there that the issue of language, of words, that is important. Many other words have been misused and cheapened, debased in order to serve the political aims of their users, most often to disguise the reprehensible nature of the deeds they describe.

Fox News, I believe, was the first major organization to look at the term “suicide bombers.” They decided that the goal of the bombers was not to kill themselves, but others; their own deaths were incidental, a means to an end. They started using “homicide bombers,” a clumsy and incomplete construct, but a smidgen more accurate.

In that spirit, and inspired by David Bernstein of The Volokh Conspiracy’s piece on giving the “proper” names to Hizbollah and Hamas (“The Party Of Allah” and “The Islamic Resistance Movement” respectively), there are a few terms that I’d like to see vanish from the rhetoric of the War On Terror.

Militant: It used to mean one of strong, fierce beliefs. Let’s call them “para-military,” “terrorists,” “guerrillas,” or some such thing that reflects their willingness to take up arms without observing the obligations that are incumbent on combatants — such as wearing distinguishing markings to set them off from civilians, avoiding injuring or endangering non-combatants, and the like.

Execute: The legally-sanctioned killing of a criminal by a government in a manner prescribed by law. To call the killings by terrorists as “executions” is to give them more validity than they deserve. They are murders, no more and no less.

Capture: To be taken prisoner by lawful authorities, or legal combatants. Hamas and Hezbollah — I’m sorry, “The Islamic Resistance Movement” and “The Party Of Allah” — did NOT capture Israeli soldiers; they kidnapped them. They abducted them with an eye towards winning a ransom.

Ceasefire: A temporary ending to hostilities, when both sides agree on nothing but to temporarily suspend open conflict. Not to be confused with a decrease in attacks by one side, accompanied by a demand the other side stop all actions and grant concessions.

Tragedy: An unplanned, unpredicted bad event. Not a deliberate attack or atrocity.

OK, those are the ones off the top of my head. Anyone else care to contribute their least-favorite perversion of language?

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