Precise Language Leads to Better, Kinder Conversations

by

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


“A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.” – George Orwell in Politics and the English Language

America has a language problemand not just of the four-letter variety. When I say American politics are Orwellian, I don’t mean Democrats will turn America into Animal Farm or Republicans will turn 2019 into 1984. Rather, I believe we rarely mean what we say and haphazardly engage in farcical smear campaigns that bear no semblance to reality, thus raising the temperature of our political discourse.

Our society’s utter lack of seriousness when it comes to word choice is worrisome. We toss around words and phrases such as Orwellian, fascist, McCarthyistic, Nazi, concentration camp, “literally Hitler,” “Commie,” white supremacist, etc. like they are old-school Nokia phones, expecting them to never break or lose connection. Rather than utilizing the English language to connect and collaborate, partisans on both sides use it as a brick to throw at their opponents.

Are we being intellectually honest when we smear our President as a white supremacist? Are we seriously trying to fix climate change when we postulate the world will end in twelve years if we don’t implement a socialist trojan horse masquerading as a climate change bill? Is it necessary to try and spin many of the President’s tweets, which are at best mean-hearted and callous, and, at worst, racist, as good and appropriate? Do we truly believe our border facilities are comparable to concentration camps run by Nazis? Are we being responsible when we claim Democrats are communists who want to turn America into Venezuela?

The answer to all of these questions is, of course, no. This is why calling Trump supporters deplorable cost Hillary the election in 2016, why the Green New Deal did not earn a single Yea vote in the Senate (despite having numerous Senatorial co-sponsors), why some Trump supporters are readily cast as hypocritical buffoons by narrative-hunting journalists, partially why we cannot have a serious conversation on comprehensive immigration reform, and why everyone is generally so terrible to one another online.

If Heath Ledger’s Joker trapped Democrats and Republicans, rather than civilians and prisoners, on the two separate ships primed to blow in The Dark Knight, I am not so sure either side would not pull the trigger thinking it better they live and their supposedly fascist opponents die. 

Precise language matters. If we ever want to make any progress in repairing our civil discourse, we genuinely need to mean what we sayeven if the things we need to say are difficult. We must stop exaggerating every issue. Fear-mongering is an effective tactic for maintaining power, which is why both sides use it, but its negative externalities dwarf its benefits in regards to our discourse.

To turn again to Orwell’s brilliant essay, “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.”

Orwell’s wisdom again brings us back to the Joker’s prisoner’s dilemma where our knee-jerk reaction is to immediately press the button. We want to blame our opponents even though playing the blame game has done nothing but tear down our social fabric. 

Politics is not a zero-sum game. If we ever want to make any progress in bettering our country, compromise is necessary.

Jonathan Voos is a baseball player and Political Science/Economics double major at Austin College, a private liberal arts institution in Sherman, Texas. He currently serves as Treasurer of the Austin College Pre-Law Society and is an active member of his church and his community.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


Share This

About Jonathan Voos

Jonathan Voos is a baseball player and Political Science/Economics double major at Austin College, a private liberal arts institution in Sherman, Texas. He currently serves as Treasurer of the Austin College Pre-Law Society and is an active member of his church and his community.

Looking to Submit an Article?

We always are happy to receive submissions from new and returning authors. If you're a conservative student with a story to tell, let us know!

Join the Team

Want to Read More?

From college experiences to political theory to sports and more, our authors have covered a wide assortment of topics tailored for millennials and students.

Browse the Archives