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“Woke” and other bogus political terms, decoded


Each era generates its own nonsensical political language. The number one meaningless word right now is “wake up,” which is used to mean “any acknowledgment of racism or sexism,” “expressing an opinion while being black or female,” or simply “something new that I’m not like’. I’ve tried to identify some of today’s other fake political words and phrases:

• “Freedom”: mostly used by American libertarians to mean “my freedom, not yours”. When they talk about “freedom,” they usually mean, “I should be free to do what I like, whether it’s buying a gun, driving my car around your city, or not wearing it.” of a mask.’ They don’t recognize the tradeoffs; their freedoms limit other people’s freedom to go out safely or not catch Covid-19. The case study of “my freedom, not yours” is the self-proclaimed “freedom of speech absolutist” Elon Musk who allows authoritarian regimes to censor content on Twitter.

• “Conservative”, “populist”: both terms are routinely applied to Trump-style movements. However, these movements are anything but “conservative” in the sense that they aim to destroy traditional institutions. “Populism” once had a widely accepted academic meaning – Cas Mudde defined it as the idea that politics was a clash between the “pure people” and the “corrupt elite” – but this clarity has been lost in popular debate. The best word to describe Trumpian movements is usually “nativist” or “far right.”

• “Witch Hunt”: a phrase that has become the first refuge of any political villain in legal trouble. Anyone tempted to believe it without asking for corroborating evidence should remember that it has been used by speakers with the credibility of George Santos, the Republican congressman accused of fraud, and Donald Trump before him.

“The media” (or “mainstream media”): a meaningless expression because there are countless very different media, which do not act in concert.

• “No panacea”: a phrase often used to criticize a particular policy, but meaningless because no intervention in society is a panacea.

“understand”: a social media phrase used to mean “agree with me”.

“Not perfect”: often used to defend a political regime, as in, “My country’s government is not perfect, but . . . Since no human creation is perfect, the phrase is really only meant to ward off justifiable criticism.

“Fake News”: in 2016, this meant low-paid troll factories were producing fake content masquerading as news on Facebook. Trump — today’s biggest producer of false political language — used the phrase to denote any news story that doesn’t suit the speaker.

“We will meet this target by 2030, 2050, etc.”: this means: “It is up to future leaders to decide whether they will make sacrifices to achieve this goal.”

“Sustainable luxury”, “sustainable flying”, etc: usually means something like, “We’ve reduced the CO2 emissions from our packaging by 7 percent, so buy more of our stuff.”

“Critical Race Theory”, “Gender Theory”, “Marxism”: terms mostly used by nativists who have read exactly zero works from any of these fields.

“Cancelled”: some people have actually been robbed from public platforms or even fired for saying things that were (often incorrectly) considered bigoted. However, usually people who claim to be “cancelled” mean “criticized”, “convicted of sexual assault”, “replaced by someone who is not an overt bigotry”, or simply “ignored”. I will always remember the obscure French writer who told me that Le Monde was “boycotting” its books.

“Community”: often used to mean “ethnic group”, as in “Jewish community”, “Hispanic community”, “black community”, etc. The pretext is that all “Hispanics” are united, for example. You can then go to their “community leaders” – often self-proclaimed older men – who will tell you what the “community” wants. The word is mostly used by white people who would never consider themselves members of the “white community”. They think they are individuals, with their own views.

“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of firmness to pure wind,” George Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” (the complete guide to how to writing in plain 13 pages). He lists other “worn and useless” words and phrases that were disappearing in his day: jackboot, Achilles heel, hotbed, crucible, acid test, real inferno. The same fate later befell words that were overused in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks: “heroes” (a euphemism for victims) and “greatest country on earth” (meaning largest army and GDP). People also ended up being shamed by saying “international community” or “step down to spend time with my family”. As Orwell said, you can’t think clearly until you stop meaningless words.

Follow Simon on Twitter @KuperSimon and email it simon.kuper@ft.com

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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