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Weekly Reader: Words matter

“The struggle over the lexicon is actually the essential struggle.” So spoke the “puppet master behind many of Donald Trump’s cruelest policies.” Unfortunately, Stephen Miller is correct. So I’m beginning this weekly look at articles by other writers with a special focus on why words matter.

As always, this Weekly Reader features links to recent articles that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.

In The Angry Grammarian‘s article Biden administration is undoing Trump’s legacy of hate, one word at a time, from the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jeffrey Barg leads his list of notable changes made in government documents since the inauguration with the fact that the Department of Homeland Security now refers to noncitizens instead of illegal aliens and criminal aliens. These were go-to phrases for the Trump administration, used to “literally alienate those from another country — even in reference to, say, a 6-year-old Costa Rican.”

Language of persecution and hate permeated government websites, press releases, and laws for much of the last four years….Take, for example, the abandonment of illegal alien: The word alien, which dates back to the 14th century, is laden with negative connotations. The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of alien includes the clarifiers ‘hostile, repugnant.’ And the word illegal, when paired with immigrant, has anti-Semitic roots: Before World War II, the term illegal immigrant originally referred to ‘a Jew who entered or attempted to enter Palestine without official permission during the later years of the British mandate.’

Moreover, when used properly, the adjective illegal refers to an act, not a person. Defenders of the term illegal argue that it’s appropriate because it’s used to describe people who have crossed a border unlawfully. But you don’t refer to a murderer as an ‘illegal,’ despite the fact that they’ve committed an illegal act. Yet decades of xenophobia have designated immigrants as the only people who could be considered ‘illegal’ themselves. This warping of language stigmatizes foreigners in a way that we don’t employ even for those who commit the most heinous acts.”

Another way we misconstrue words is by improper framing. Renée Graham, writing for The Boston Globe, cautions her readers that Derek Chauvin is the murder defendant. Don’t put George Floyd on trial.

On Monday, jury selection begins in Chauvin’s murder trial. Yet some media outlets have already dubbed it ‘the George Floyd trial.”’For those of us with more of a sense of dread than a sense of justice in America, this is not an accident. It’s not even subtle.

‘That is how the underpinning of white supremacist ideology, and its progeny racism, works in these subtle ways to subvert the narrative,’ said the Rev. Emmett G. Price III, pastor of Community of Love Christian Fellowship in Boston. ‘By calling it ‘the George Floyd trial,’ you swap the seats in the courtroom. That’s very intentional.”’

John Stoehr, writing for The Editorial Board, wants us to understand how game-changing the bill that Biden will sign this week is for the country. Unfortunately, as he notes in American Rescue Act is the BFD that we’ve been waiting for but that everyone misunderstands, people don’t understand that fact because progressives like Robert Reich wants to tell a narrative about Joe Manchin instead. Words, and how we use them, matter.

In the end, Manchin looked like the Rebellious Democrat he bills himself as—while leaving Biden’s proposals pretty much intact.

Reich’s narrative of politics isn’t based on facts. (He would be celebrating instead of complaining if it were.) His narrative is about narratives, his story is about stories — stories that are no longer relevant to, or increasingly out of step with, the facts. The longer Reich and others tell this story about stories, the more they actually threaten to undermine the public’s understanding of this paradigm-shifting new law. Many people now believe the Democrats caved again. In fact, they have begun changing the world.” ‘

For Stoehr’s take on what Manchin is doing when he throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the works, check out Actually, conservative Senate Democrats are doing exactly what they are supposed to. Playing ball, also from The Editorial Board.

Liz Dye, writing in Wonkette, notes that In The Republican Grift-o-Sphere, There Are No Patsies. Lies are great examples to show why words matter. How the press covers those lies also matters. A great deal.

To end on two totally different pieces, Kevin Blackistone, writing in the Washington Post sports section, lets us know that Kyrie Irving is wrong about making Kobe Bryant the NBA’s logo. When I heard about this suggestion I had the exact same reaction that Blackistone lays out so eloquently in this column.

And I cannot end this week without some reference to the ridiculous faux outrage over the (non) cancellation of Dr. Seuss. In a “not safe for work and/or young children” post on his blog, Shower Cap writes about the faux controversy in Oh, the Sharts You Can Shart, and Other Cancelled Dr. Seuss Books.

Of course, outside the Fux Nooz fever swamps, in a magical kingdom some call ‘reality,’ a handful of Mr. Geisel’s minor works have been pulled from publication, by his estate, because they contain (to put it mildly) racially insensitive imagery which is pretty darn difficult to defend, here in the 21st century. Nothing is cancelled, or, as Minority Leader McCarthy mendaciously claimed, ‘outlawed.‘ The Grinch’s efforts to steal Xmas are, as ever, ongoing; the controversy over the desirability of consuming green eggs and/or ham endures; Pop remains hopped upon.

Still, determined to overthrow cancel culture like a common presidential election, wingnuts began frantically buying up every Seuss book that wasn’t nailed down, rocketing the good Dr. straight to the top of the Amazon bestseller list, and steering a massive financial windfall to…the very estate they’re allegedly furious with. If you’re wondering why conservatives are so susceptible to propaganda that strikes you as My God This Wouldn’t Fool a Yak, I humbly offer up the decision-making process outlined in this paragraph.

Have a good week of reading (perhaps some Dr. Seuss!).

More to come…


Image by USA-Reiseblogger from Pixabay

This entry was posted in: The Times We Live In, Weekly Reader


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

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