The left recognized early on that changes in language are not superficial, and it became a big tool of theirs.
“Moving the Overton Window” is another name for the goal of the process, which is to change public perceptions of what is acceptable and what is radical. There are many ways the left accomplishes this, but a highly important one is through language.
I want to highlight the observations in this recent comment at my blog:
One fundamental principle – identified and exploited by both Goebbels’ Propagandaministerium and the KGB in Soviet Russia – is that endless repetition of a slogan infallibly modifies most people’s perception and reaction.
. . . . [E]verybody who comes from the left…knows that dissent means expulsion; so, any leftist develops a special ear capable of recognizing a new dogma: in articles and speeches given by the cool people in the cool places, a term begins to be used as if it were an indisputable evidence and those who “incredibly” refuse to accept it are gradually described as controversial, then conservative and eventually Fascist.
We constantly see this in action.
In the French Revolution, language was used for this purpose when people were instructed to call each other “citizen,” and in the USSR a similar phenomenon occurred (via Wikipedia):
Upon abolishing the titles of nobility in France, and the terms monsieur and madame (literally, “my lord” and “my lady”), the revolutionaries employed the term citoyen for men and citoyenne for women (both meaning “citizen”) to refer to each other…
When the socialist movement gained momentum in the mid-18th century, socialists elsewhere began to look for a similar egalitarian alternative to terms like “Mister”, “Miss”, or “Missus”. In German, the word Kamerad had long been used as an affectionate form of address among people linked by some strong common interest…In English, the first known use of the word “comrade” with this meaning was in 1884 in the socialist magazine Justice.
That’s just about forms of address, but the thing about these words is that they are used constantly in everyday life and are habitual. To change them is to change a great deal.
Some language changes are natural and emerge spontaneously from the people themselves, but some are imposed from above either through suggestion, coercion, or threat of punishment. Think, for example, about Canadian professor Jordan Peterson’s battle over the use of pronouns for transgendered people—he has indicated he would certainly consider using a person’s preferred pronouns but not under coercion or threat of punishment, either by government or by SJWs. As Peterson says in this video: the left is “trying to gain linguistic supremacy in the area of public discourse.”
To gain this linguistic and ultimately ideological supremacy, the left is constantly attempting to alter speech in ways both small and large. The small ways are sometimes even more effective because they can elude whatever radar the right may possess, and the right often adopts these linguistic changes without even realizing what’s occurring.
Orwell devoted a great portion of his masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four to this very issue of politically purposeful language change, something he viewed as central to leftist thought. In fact, I believe that his coinage and discussion of Newspeak was the beating heart of his book and a huge, memorable, and especially meaningful part of why it became so widely read and influential.
As Humpty Dumpty said [emphasis mine]:
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’?” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’?”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
[Neo is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at the new neo.]DONATE
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