Words Matter

Several days ago I posted about a UW professor who stated the Affordable Care bill was “slammed through” congress.   I pointed out that was not in any way a correct assessment of the facts concerning how the bill moved through the legislative process.  One might be for the bill, or opposed to the bill, but there is no way to not recognize how the process actually played out.

As someone who has worked in broadcasting and reported a fair share of news stories, handled press relations in a legislator’s office which included writing at least one press release each week I know one thing for certain. Words matter.

Tonight while reading a book about the 1800 election, A Magnificent Catastrophe, by Edward Larson a perfect example from the pages of history jump out to make yet another point about why this is true.

John Fries was a Revolutionary War officer who in 1799 organized and led about 400 farmers to protest the paying of federal taxes. He and many others were arrested. President Adams asked his cabinet members for their ideas about how to proceed with several key members of the group, including Fries. Every member stated that he should hang for his offenses.

But after some thinking for reasons that ranged far and wide as the 1800 election neared Adams decided the activity that Fries was engaged in was a “riot” and not an “insurrection”.  Fries’ life was spared with a presidential pardon.

Words matter.

My father came from a generation where a handshake and “your word” were as solid as a legal document. I felt the sting of words slurred at me in my growing up years in school. And I have felt the power of “I love you” as an adult.

Over the years I have rejected calling everyone a hero for showing up on time for a job and then falling victim to terrorism. I am not one who calls everyone a superstar for having a high-priced promoter and a single song in the top ten.   To be the best, a classic, The King, one-of-a-kind and any other such label is just another way to underscore that words matter in all parts of our life. Too often words are taken lightly, misused, and over time then ring hollow.

But for me it is most troubling when words are used to misrepresent facts that need to be understood by our nation when it comes to policy. With enough effort partisan spin can be placed on just about everything. The damage this causes our nation when words are used to erase facts, or to create a new version of events far removed from what actually occurred must never be allowed to stand.   The misuse of words needs to be called out.

One thought on “Words Matter

  1. tom

    While I appreciate sentiment here, I think that the idea that “words matter” is something we have lost for the time being. Part of this is our racing social media which deeply urges group think, conformity, and the rampant abuse of language. Consider how meaningless the following words have become through overuse: “racist,” “politically correct,” “extreme,” “bigot,” and so many others. “Extreme” as it is used most often, has little more meaning that the “F-bomb.” It is a kind of verbal hiccup and nothing more.

    I know you appreciate language and seek to call out abuses of language committed by conservatives and others you don’t like. I am lopsidedly critical, too. But as human beings we want the things we want and are unwilling–almost all the time–to honestly look beyond our own selfish (or altruistic) desires and emotions. This is spin. Spin is a great enemy of democracy: it is the primary tool used by those in power to confiscate our rights.

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