Tuesday, November 04, 2008


' “Coalition of the willing”, “War on terror”, “pro-life”, “pro-choice” are examples of phrases that smuggle in political opinion. A whole partisan argument is packed into a sound bite. These precision-engineered packages of language are launched by politicians and campaigners and targeted at newspaper headlines and snazzy television graphics where they land and dispense their payload of persuasion into the public consciousness.'

In his book, “Unspeak”, Steven Poole exposes the dubious nature of such manipulative expressions. For example, “Coalition of the Willing” seems to suggest that a large group of countries had joined together in the war against Iraq, whereas the truth was that only the USA and Britain were partners in this venture. “War on terror’ managed to legitimize the war on Iraq, by introducing associations with Al-Qaeda. “Either you are on our side, or on the side of the terrorists’ was the sub-text.

Anti-abortionists by calling themselves ‘pro-life’, managed to cast their opponents as anti-life and even pro-death, when the debate itself was on what constituted life and when does it really begin.

Policy makers and coal lobbyists in the USA also managed to tone down the term “Global warming” to “climate change” and to temper the public concern over coal plants. The former had connotations of inferno and hell, while the latter seemed to describe a routine, benign, incremental transformation.

Who came up with the expression “global meltdown” to describe the present economic situation? By calling it global, were the national governments trying to externalize the problem and disown responsibility? And ‘bloodbath’ and ‘carnage’ to describe a sharp drop in share prices at the Stock Exchange?

How we choose to describe something or what we term an event, can influence the way we perceive it and well determine the course of that event.


Usha said...

Aren't these the weapons that media and politician often use to implant an image in our minds about an event?

Raj said...

Usha, yes, it is an Orwellian world.