Sunday, April 7, 2013

Of Islamists, Illegal Immigrants, words, and The Word

Islamist is now a forbidden word, at least in Associated Press journalism.
The Associated Press Revises Another Politically Charged Term
Stylebook entry for 'Islamist' revised two days after 'illegal immigrant' dropped
"Following on the heels of the Tuesday decision by The Associated Press to discontinue use of the term "illegal immigrant," the news agency on Thursday revised its stylebook entry for another politically charged term. The term "Islamist," the AP clarified in a Thursday afternoon alert to online stylebook subscribers, should not be used as "a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals."
This is being done because the term "carries a negative connotation" according to the article. The term Islamist has been in the AP Stylebook since 2012 but an Islamist group lobbied for the AP to remove it. Apparently they have been successful. This comes on the heels of another linguistic swap. The term 'illegal immigrant' was also dropped last week. The article continues by saying, "The AP's decision to discontinue "illegal immigrant" was part of an ongoing process of "ridding the Stylebook of labels."

Heavens to Betsy that someone reading the news should feel any discomfort over what they read!

Propaganda and Perception of Reality

Language manipulation is an important part of altering the reality that is presented to citizens through media. Language is the filter through which we connect with the world, think about what we see, know, and understand, and communicate to others.

photo credit: tochis via photopin cc
In the academic paper by Christopher J. Dorsey, The Ethics of Shaping Perceptions of Reality: What Journalists Can Learn From Cartographers and Shamans we read in the abstract,
"Journalism has the unique ability to shape the public’s perception of reality. Because humans are limited in experience and knowledge, an understanding of the world is shaped by what information is available to each individual. As a major societal institution, journalism has a public forum with which to release relevant, timely and useful information that can influence these perceptions. When it comes to building perceptions of reality, there are potential harms that can arise such as enhancing fear, confusion, stress, and building a worldview that can lead to uninformed or destructive decisions. Essentially, a journalist has as much ability to disable as enable, to inhibit as empower, and to befuddle and confuse as inform or educate. ..."
The problem comes when an entity decides to alter our collective reality by changing word definitions or dropping words from the public sphere that they deem unacceptable. By what standard may do they do this? Who decides? What about others who who wish to continue using the term? They will soon find it outdated.

On a lighter note, if you listen to George Carlin's riffs on the absurdity of language changes, and I don't recommend listening to George Carlin as a rule, he makes some devastatingly insightful comments. (If you do listen to the one I'm referring to below, be advised he uses the word BS four times but there are no other profanities). In his 8-minute commentary on the increasing use of soft language, titled "Euphemistic Language" he reminds us of the changes we older folks already have lived through but may have forgotten. He shows the evolution of the WWI term shell shock into soft, euphemistic language describing the exact same condition in each succeeding generation but diluting the human quality of it:

  • Shell shock (2 syllables. simple honest direct language, 100 years ago)
  • Battle fatigue (4 syllables, nicer to say, not as abrupt)
  • Operational exhaustion (8 syllables, humanity removed, this sounds like something that would happen to your car)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (still 8 syllables, but a hyphen has been added, the personal pain is buried under jargon)
"It is soft language that takes the life out of life." Carlin continues with reminding us of other linguistic swaps-

toilet paper = bathroom tissue
sneakers = running shoes
false teeth = dentures
medicine = medication
motel = motor lodge
dump = landfill
It's a sneaker! Wiki pic.
information = directory assistance
house trailers = mobile homes
used cars = previously owned
riots = civil disorder
zoo = wildlife park
drug addiction = substance abuse
soaps = daytime dramas
prostitutes = sex workers
wife beating = domestic violence
constipation = occasional irregularity

Carlin sagely said, people have been "suckered into believing that if you change the name of the condition somehow it changes the condition."

Using softening language eventually takes the life out of language and thus out of life. Of the decision to drop the use of the term 'illegal immigrant', Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio, told U.S. News he objected to efforts "to soften the crime of entering illegally."

What is the recommended term instead? "Undocumented". Sounds nicer, doesn't it? Softer.

In the classic novel of government revisionism and propaganda as a means to mind control, 1984 by George Orwell, Wikipedia states of the protagonist, "Winston Smith works as a clerk in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, where his job is to rewrite historical documents so they match the constantly changing current party line. This involves revising newspaper articles and doctoring photographs...The Ministry of Truth is involved with news media, entertainment, the fine arts and educational books. Its purpose is to rewrite history to change the facts to fit Party doctrine for propaganda effect."

Sounds eerily like the AP's rulebook changed to drop terms labeling people in a negative way they decide should be a positive, or at least a neutral, doesn't it? Winston's job was to create Newspeak. Newspeak is a reduced language with fewer words which are constantly shifting. Undesirable concepts are erased.  Wayne Grytting wrote a book titled, "American Newspeak: The Mangling of Meaning for Power and Profit" which addresses this topic. Its blurb reads, "brings doubletalk up to date for the 21st century. ... [T]he book is sure to awaken whole new audiences to the grim but gripping reality of how far our culture has gone in the direction of Orwell's 1984."

A common language

Christians have a language contained in our stylebook which will never change. It is the bible. The cross is our focal point, the bible is the word by which we learn about our Commander in Chief and receive our marching orders, and love is the unifying factor as we go forward.

Think of how important it is for secular culture to control words and language, because it controls thought. Attempts to control language are impossible, though. People redefine morals, love, behavior, crime, law, and everything else as it suits.

You may be way ahead of me by now, but here is a certain scripture for us to consider:

"Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world." (Hebrews 1:1-2).

God speaks. He used pictures and symbols. He used events. He used prophets. But now He uses His son, aka, "THE WORD."

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God." (John 1:1)

Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." (Luke 21:33)

It is language in the bible, the Word, that transforms us. We are in spiritual battle for souls but the entry point is the mind. Look what Paul says in Romans 12:2-

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

The world tries to conform us by altering the reality it is presenting to us via language. The bible's power through the Word transforms us. It is not a battle of flesh but through the mind. Look how often the mind, or thought, is mentioned:

Philippians 4:8, 1 Peter 1:13, Colossians 3:2, 1 Corinthians 2:16, Ephesians 4:20-24.

George Carlin was so right when he said that changing the language drains the life out of life. When we see constant changes in words and concepts in not just newspaper and media, but in bible translations, it is a direct spiritual attack going straight to the minds of those who read it.

Carlin also said that they think that by changing the words, they change the condition. Dropping the word 'homosexuality' from new bible translations and erasing its concept will not change the sinful condition of those who life that life.

Secular thought cannot transform, only the Word can transform! In one sense, we can pity the people and organizations that vainly try to control and transform through language. It is as vain as every lofty opinion. We are grateful that the Lord spoke to us in the word, and the Word will never pass away. It transforms, enlightens, and grows us in His likeness. it!


  1. This is an insightful post. i've thought about this alot since I was saved 19 years ago. Sometimes I feel like the truth is being stolen from us in so many ways. the truth of history, the truth of life as it is, and of course the truth about salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. Of course the word tells us about the latter and to be expected, but so much else is also being lied about, left out or twisted. It sure takes alot of wisdom to navigate through life these days. Another thing is: if we lose our ability/motivation to read what a loss this will be! I was watching OUt of Africa recently and Meryl Streeps character owned a farm in Africa. She set up a school for the native children of her workers to learn to read and speak English. The old chief of the tribe kept visiting her with his translator to tell her that he did not want the children to learn. She kept insisting that they should and continued her school. It was the one redeeming aspect of the movie and showed her wisdom and understanding about the importance of being able to read. As long as we can read, we can read our Bibles and if it is taken away it will mean incalcuable loss.

    1. Thank you Anonymous...

      Our bibles are surely being taken from us, not only by force, but by stealth, when different translations mess with the original words and concepts. Sad!!!

  2. An excellent post. I must tell you so!

    1. Thank you so much, Anonymous!! Have a blessed day.

  3. Thanks, Elizabeth. In light of the seriousness of the topic, I had to chuckle remembering George Carlin when he was funny without the expletives, etc.
    So many frustrating things are going on as we wait for the Lord to come for us. If we didn't have the Word to help us understand, I know how fearful I would be. But God is so gracious to connect us with like-minded believers so that we can find comfort as we witness the march of the World to the end. I certainly appreciate His leading me to your blog and I'm sure we will meet in the air someday.



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