Political Keywords: Using Language That Uses Us

Political Keywords: Using Language That Uses Us

Political Keywords: Using Language That Uses Us

Political Keywords: Using Language That Uses Us

Synopsis

The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal in the United States, but that statement does not hold true for words. Some words carry more weight than others--they seem to work harder, get more done, and demand more respect. Political Keywords: Using Language that UsesUslooks at eight dominant words that are crucial to American political discourse, and how they have been employed during the last fifty years.
Based on an analysis of eleven separate studies of political language,Political Keywordshelps readers to understand what these terms mean and how they are used. For example, the book tracks whatpoliticsnow means to modern commentators, how schoolteacher impress certain values upon the nation's children by invoking the office of thepresident, and why an innocent word likegovernmentsometimes makes people so upset. It details how thepeopleare referenced in political talk and how themediaportray themselves. The book also considers the work done by politicalparties, politicalpromises, and politicalconsultantsbecause, together, they shed special light on modern elections. Combining social science with subtle forms of cultural interpretation,Political Keywords: Using Language that Uses Usprovides a fresh look at both American politics and American language. It is an ideal text for undergraduate and graduate courses in political communication, political language, political campaigns, media and politics, political psychology, public opinion, rhetorical criticism, contemporary public address, and presidential rhetoric.

Excerpt

It is said that all men are created equal in the United States, but that is not true for words. Some words are better than others, which is to say, they work harder, get more done, demand more respect. Americans become obedient in the presence of such words, words like national defense or the Fourth of July or lower taxes. It is almost impossible to champion these concepts and not win the day. Cultural historian Richard Weaver called such phrases God Terms, words that so concentrate the mind that no other thoughts can be thought. Devil Terms, in contrast, words like communism or inflation or al Qaeda, are so disturbing that their mere mention casts a pall over an otherwise pleasant day. Words like these do our thinking for us, says Weaver, blotting out their alternatives. Such words also stir up emotions. To use them is to make a raw bid for influence.

Power is often associated with language. Much to the dismay of the French, for example, English has become the universal language of business, and that has been a boon to U.S. and British corporations alike. English also rules the Internet, and that marginalizes literally billions of people. Similarly, recent immigrants to the United States learn about language and power when they seek work with broken English as their only ally. Even after one gets a job, the story of language continues: Television announcers are required to lose their regional accents; electoral ballots are available only in English; ebonics is treated as a national joke; parents prohibit their children from speaking Spanish, thereby distancing them from their grandparents. the story of language and power persists: the New York Times is written for the elite, the tabloids for the great unwashed; wealthy students do better in spelling bees than do poor children; a typographical error on a job résumé is seen as a moral failing, not a technological one.

But language is also dynamic. in the 1980s, for example, rap lyrics were associated with illiteracy and gangsterism, but the 1990s changed all that when the music infiltrated white youth culture. This sort of “mainstreaming” can be a natural process (kleenex and xerox began as brand names rather than generics), but mainstreaming can also be manipulated. During the 2003 Iraq war, for example, the Bush administration lionized the coalition forces who fought the war even though the troops were largely from the United States. the administration also referred to weapons of mass destruction because it sounded more fearsome than the technical chemical and biological agents. On other occasions, a term like feminism can be reviled in one era (the 1960s) only to become a God Term in the 1970s and 1980s. Ironically, researchers . . .

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