Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Potholes in the Path of Public Discourse

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Potholes in the Path of Public Discourse

Article excerpt

Clarity and simplicity are such important values in the public discourse that a journalist must be always alert for blather, obfuscation, or new words introduced to camouflage bad deeds.

Forgive me if I state the obvious. Or sound hopelessly idealistic.

The Bible records the Lord urging the prophet Habakkuk, "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it." At least one commentary I've consulted on this passage left me with a mental image of robed figures (in running sandals?) jogging through the desert past a series of billboards with the prophetic message in ALL CAPS. But I think that may not be quite what the writer - or the Lord, for that matter - had in mind.

Rather, the idea is that a writer's words should be clear and smooth enough that the reader's eyes should be able to run over the page (table). Euphemism and obfuscation are like potholes or tree roots in a runner's path.

In his essay in the current National Geographic on the world's national parks under threat, David Quammen has alerted me to a significant new pothole in the path of public discourse: the term "de-gazetting." It refers to the process by which a park is "disestablished," so to speak, or "de-listed" - downgraded to a lesser level of protection. It happened to the Amboseli National Park in Kenya last year.

De-gazetting, Quammen writes, is "a word with which we should all acquaint ourselves; it's a word, unfortunately, of the future. How so? Because other efforts to de-gazette national parks are likely to arise soon, as we citizens of various countries find our short-term appetites more compelling than our long-term ideals."

And where does this curious word come from? From "gazette" in the sense of "official journal," roughly analogous to the Congressional Record in the United States. In the case of the Amboseli National Park, the minister of wildlife and tourism announced that it would be downgraded to a national reserve and control of it returned to the Masai people, its original owners. …

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