Thursday, January 18, 2018

Pot, Deflating Bubbles, And Other Word Battles

Words play a huge role in what we know.  Even our own observations are affected by the language we speak and think in.  We wrap our experiences in the words we have available.  Very few of us break those constraints and create new words if the ones we have are inadequate.

Here are some examples word issues in today's newspaper:

1.  Stop using the word 'pot'An ADN headline:
Marijuana industry gets blunt: Stop using the word ‘pot’
". . .But marijuana still carries a stigma that surfaces with the use of old slang like pot and weed. For many, the words evoke an image of lazy, not-so-bright people who puff their lives away.
The image deeply bothers the marijuana industry, which is telling the public — sometimes gently, sometimes curtly — that they should use the word cannabis. That's the scientific name for the plant from which marijuana is derived."
Here, it appears the cannabis industry is trying to change its (in business jargon) 'brand.'  'Brand' is a word I dislike.  "Branding" epitomizes the idea of substituting the image of something for the actual essence of it. Branders want people to think about their product a certain way so it sells better.  It's the image, not the product itself, that they are selling. 'Brand' is a way of 'branding' the word 'deception' and making it into something that's seen as good.

I don't think that the name for cannabis matters all that much - it's the intrinsic product that people are  interested in, no matter what you call it.  I suspect those holding negative images of 'pot' are dying out.  That view was part of the political ideology that didn't like rock music, hippies, and Vietnam war protestors

2.  Bubble Deflates - Another ADN headline that comes originally from the New York Times:


Did you ever see a bubble deflate?  Balloons and tires can lose their air slowly (deflate), but bubbles burst.  Except, it seems, in economics.  But then economists often deductive,  starting with theory they tell us how the world works.  It's the theory, not the real world that matters.   In economics, for example, people only  make 'rational' decisions. And, bubbles deflate.  It took people like Vernon Smith to actually do experiments to burst some of this economic bubble nonsense.

This is just lazy thinking.  Mixed metaphors are a kind of lazy thinking.  "A carpenter was the low rung on a totem pole." comes from a long list of mixed metaphors.   But if you google 'deflated bubble' you'll find lots of serious economics examples of this term.

3.  Other Word Battles

George Lakoff tells us that framing the debate is the most critical thing in political discourse.  We've fought over words like "illegal alien" versus "undocumented worker"; 'baby killing' versus 'pro-choice.'  The list goes on and on.

The conservatives have made a science of this and do it masterfully.  The never say 'the Democratic Party."  They say 'the Democrat Party." It's like taking someone's name and changing it just a little bit to irritate them and control what they are called.  It's a form of bullying.   And their most successful reframing was the term  'political correctness.'  Even liberal have bought into this perversion.

I've written about the origins of the term 'political correctness' in the past.  I don't want to repeat all that.

I also posted about my view of the difference between conservative and liberal use of restricting words.  Conservatives try to restrict words as a way to win debates.  If you ban or demonize words needed by your opponent, it rigs the whole debate.   Their opponents aren't allowed to use key terms needed to make their case.   The NRA has bullied the Center For Disease Control to end research on gun deaths in the US.  Without data it's hard to make a rational argument.  And the Trump administration has banned terms like 'climate change' and 'fetus.'

Liberals try to ban words that insult or demean or even terrorize other human beings, generally people who are NOT white heterosexual males.  There are plenty of other terms to use that are more respectful and so these bans don't hinder political discussion.  

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