Jewish World Review June 9, 2006/ 13 Sivan, 5766

Greg Crosby

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Clear words, clear thought | Debating social and political issues of the day almost always guarantees arguments and bickering. Much of the angry disagreement can be chalked up to pure ideological divides, of course, but I can't help but believe that some of it is because people just don't speak clearly. Words are so important for honest debate and so much of the time words are not used honestly - on purpose.

A case in point is the issue of abortion rights. People in favor of legalized, government sanctioned abortions never label themselves as "pro-abortion," which would be intellectually honest. Instead they call themselves "pro-choice," which has a much more benign connotation. "Choice" is a good thing, right? Don't we all like having many choices? Why go to an ice cream shop that only carries three flavors when you can go to an ice cream shop with 31?

Similarly, the opposition call themselves "pro-life," not "anti-abortion." Being "anti" anything is stringent sounding; while being "pro" something is a positive attribute in our society. In our non-judgmental culture it is a good thing to be "for" stuff and a bad thing to be "against" stuff - any stuff.

Both sides in the debate engage in semantic game playing in order to muddle their true intentions and to spin their viewpoint into the best light possible so as to win people over to their side. It is a total dishonest use of words. The debate is clearly "pro-abortion" verses "anti-abortion." "Choosing" and "living" is technically part of it, but it muddies the issue. Abortion. Should women be allowed to get it on demand and should the government (tax-payers) foot the bill, or not? That is the honest debate.

Another disingenuous term that we hear constantly is "same sex marriage." While the meaning of the term is certainly honest enough, the psychological sound of it, (just as in my "pro-choice" example), has a softly benign quality. "Same sex marriage" is a whole lot easier to accept than "homosexual marriage" which, of course, is the same thing.

If we were to frame the issue as a debate between "traditional man/woman marriage" versus "homosexual or lesbian marriage," it has a harsher sound to it but it would be more honest than using the "same sex" label. If one side is in favor of "same sex marriage" then it stands to reason that the other side is in favor of "opposite sex marriage."

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Now, and here is why words are so important, ironically, "opposite sex marriage" almost sounds WRONG, while "same sex marriage" sounds like the PROPER way to go! This is because in our culture being "the same" is looked on as being right, while being "opposite" is being wrong. Interesting? By twisting words around, we have completely reversed their meaning.

Sometimes society will change what we call things so that they actually sound better (or at least not as bad) than they really are. For example, in the old days people knew if they were too sexually permissive there was a chance of catching a venereal disease. Venereal disease sounds scary. And someone who had "V.D." was a social pariah. Today the politically correct term is "STD" (sexually transmitted disease). For some reason STD doesn't sound as bad as the old V.D. sounded. STD sounds sort of cool - like a new sports car or something.

For decades now, "gay" has come to be the euphemism of choice for both homosexuals and lesbians. There's no denying that saying, "David is gay," is much kinder and gentler sounding than saying, "David is homosexual." "Gay" is a light, airy, bouncy term that really takes the sting out of being a homosexual. The word "homosexual" traditionally has a negative connotation; the word "gay" is happy and cute.

Likewise, proponents for open borders and total amnesty never use terms such as "illegal aliens," or "illegal immigrants" to describe, well, illegal immigrants. They prefer euphemistic labels such as "undocumented workers." And some pro-amnesty groups and even the media, like the Los Angeles Times for one, simply refer to the illegals as "immigrants," conveniently leaving out the ILLEGAL part. Dishonest? You tell me.

But the politically correct euphemism of the century has got to be "The War on Terror." We are not at war with "terror" any more than we were at war with imperialism and fascism during World War II. We were at war with Japan and Germany, who just so happened to be imperialistic and fascistic. And now we are at war with radical Islam, who just so happens to use terrorism as their main weapon. Radical Islam declared war on Western Civilization; they themselves have said as much - many, many times. But we are so politically correct today that we are afraid of actually pinpointing an enemy and calling them by their right name. This fuzziness of language may well be our downfall.

We need to be clear in our social debates and in our intentions, both as individuals and as a nation. Words matter. As Samuel Beckett once said, "Words are all we have." If we can no longer call something by its correct name, then we will soon lose the ability to think clearly. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but we have all agreed on calling that particular flower a "rose" - when one says it smells like a rose, you instantly know what the thing smells like. Let us not call a rose by anything else. To do so would be dishonest.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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