Jewish World Review April 12, 2013/ 2 Iyar, 5773
When words lose their meaning
By Paul Greenberg
The editors at the
Speaking of Orwell, he could have written the line used by
Ah, yes, to be precise and accurate. A laudatory aim. And to achieve that ambitious goal, the AP has decided to nix the most precise and accurate words to describe illegal immigrants, which is to say, illegal and immigrants. Big Brother would understand.
To quote the announcement from AP: "The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term 'illegal immigrant' or the use of 'illegal' to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that 'illegal' should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally."
The way illegal immigrants do?
Somebody once said that language was the Little Roundtop of any political argument, that is, the decisive ground. Whoever occupies it may hold an unassailable position, or at least shouldn't give it up without one heckuva fight. (See Gettysburg, 1863.) This current debate over words, namely two of them, illegal and immigrants, is too important to cede to the other side. Words deserve respect, even reverence. When we allow them to be devalued, the whole language is distorted, and thought itself degraded.
I've long suspected that newspaper editors invented editorial boards to approve, condemn or just generally mess with editorial ideas so they won't have to bear responsibility for them alone. When many people are responsible for some atrocious decision, then nobody is. The very phrase, People From Many Walks of Life, is prima facie evidence that somebody doesn't want to take the fall alone.
So what would the AP have the nation's newspapers use instead of "illegal immigrants" to describe illegal immigrants? On that point, these keepers of journalistic nomenclature aren't as clear. Indeed, they're downright muddy, as those intent on avoiding the simple meaning of words tend to be. They seem to think vagueness a safe refuge rather than the tacit confession it is.
According to the
Time magazine quoted an official at AP who said the term Foreigners in
There are people on both sides of this debate over illegal immigration who can empathize with folks who don't have their papers in order. I daresay I'd be sorely tempted to wade across the Rio Grande myself if there were no other way to get to this promised land.
Folks who have no proof they belong here must live in fear much of the time -- not only fear of the INS but of the local thugs who make a practice of taking advantage of them. But immigration -- legal, illegal or in-between -- is going to happen here as long as
Something has to change. The border must be secured. Laws must be followed. La ley es la ley. The law is the law. But not even the most hardened nativist would be able to round up 12 million people and deport 'em all.
What to do? Believe it or not, it looks as though
But the country is going to have a hard time solving the problem of illegal immigrants, or any other, if we've lost the language. And when an enterprise like the
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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