The Vocabulary War

October 15, 2020 Updated: October 15, 2020


In recent decades, language has become a new staging ground for attacks by progressives on the left. We need to understand this new mechanism of war and figure out how to fight back.

Language is continually changing. When we read a Shakespearean play, we need to have footnotes and glossaries to help us understand the meanings of archaic words and lost meanings of current words to appreciate the jokes and puns (though “appreciate” might not be the right word either, since comedy is rarely appreciated when it needs explanation).

In the movie “The Professor and the Madman” about the fascinating true 19th century story of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, professor James Murray (Mel Gibson) has taken on the gargantuan task—with the assistance of Dr. William Minor (Sean Penn), an inmate at a criminal lunatic asylum—to define every word in the English language. Despite their amazing success, at the end of the film Dr. Murray is disappointed that there are so many missing definitions. A colleague reminds him that language is forever changing, and he should understand that the dictionary will always be a work-in-progress.

The Wrong Words

While language naturally evolves, there’s also a war going on right now, where words are the weapons. In this war, the meanings of words are purposely changed so that anyone using an “old meaning” is ostracized and attacked, thus controlling opinions and distracting from the actual facts.

A simple example is the word “retarded,” which is now considered an unacceptable insult against someone who is … well, I don’t even know the acceptable term. According to Merriam Webster, “retarded” is an adjective that is “usually offensive” to describe someone who is “very stupid or foolish” or “slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development : characterized by intellectual disability.”

But think about the term itself. There’s absolutely nothing insulting or objectionable about it. It means that a person’s mental development was retarded, or in other words, delayed. It replaced other descriptions from previous generations like simpleminded, unintelligent, dumb, cretinous, mentally defective, stupid, idiot, imbecile, fool, and moron. Some of these descriptions are actually psychological descriptions and accurately describe a particular mental condition. It’s not an insulting word.

Similar to this word is the ever-changing term for someone who previously was called “handicapped” or “disabled” but who is now supposed to be called “alternately abled,” as if many people simply choose to have physical deformities that limit their abilities.

The progressive word warriors delineate the battlefields and then fight the battles. Why? There are two reasons. First, because progressives see everything in terms of “fairness.” They believe that recognizing someone’s deficiencies is insulting to that person, despite how true it may be. So they invent words that sound benign and don’t immediately describe the deficiency.

However, as time goes on, that word becomes associated with the deficiency, and the word warriors then deem the word to be insulting, not politically correct, degrading, etc. They change the word to something once again less descriptive, and the cycle repeats. This continues, allowing the word warriors to do continual battle, while not actually ever accomplishing anything except keeping themselves in a state of constant indignation.

But there’s another, more aggressive and disturbing reason for the word warriors’ attacks. George Orwell understood it, predicted it, and described it when he wrote about “Newspeak,” but he got a few things wrong.

In his famous novel “1984,” Newspeak was a shrinking language rather than an expanding one. The vocabulary shrank to include only allowable terms. In the novel, the government used a restricted vocabulary to limit an individual’s ability to think and articulate “subversive” concepts. In today’s world, progressive word warriors invent new terminology and then attack people who “use it incorrectly.” But in both worlds, the language is used to attack those who have “improper” ideas.

In Orwell’s novel, the government controls the thought police. In our modern world, the progressive elites use their influence on government, industry, and the media to control society.

Avoiding Issues

These word warriors have such influence on society these days that it’s frightening. People can get fired, and their careers destroyed, simply for using the wrong word, as happened to a radio news anchor recently in Cleveland. And of course there are the multitude of new pronouns that the word warriors require to be used to address someone according to that person’s preferred gender identity. Professionals have been allegedly fired for using the wrong pronouns, and the progressive/regressive state of California even created a law to fine and jail people for using the wrong pronoun.

People of my generation would joke about whether to call an American with dark skin a negro, colored person, black, Afro-American, person of color, or African American. These jokes were told quietly because for each change in terminology, every Caucasian, Asian, Indian, or other non-black person could be hounded and ostracized publicly for using the wrong word.

Since the recent protests and rioting, the word warriors have designated the term for these people to once again be “Black” but specifically spelled with a capital B. Why does it matter to them? For one reason only. By constantly changing definitions, the word warriors can avoid discussing real issues of race relations.

Rather than examining facts or debating issues surrounding racism, poverty, or justice, for example, the word warriors can instead simply attack their opponents for their terminology. Facts are no longer necessary. Independent thought is no longer required. Winning and enforcing their ideology is all that matters.

And of course racism is everywhere according to the word warriors. Using the wrong terminology allows them to accuse others of racism without actually arguing facts or delving into a complicated but very important issue. In order to “combat racism,” the word warriors have made it possible to destroy the lives of anyone for a verbal infraction, as is the official policy in Loudoun County school district of Virginia, not surprisingly right outside Washington, D.C., much like the rituals for uncovering witches during medieval times.

Redefining Terms

The latest battle arose during the recent confirmation hearings of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court. Democrats are understandably upset with the fact that President Donald Trump has nominated an originalist to the court, which will give a majority to originalist/conservative judges after years of having a majority of activist/liberal judges.

To remedy this under a possible Biden administration, many Democrats have threatened to “pack the court.” The term refers to adding justices to the court so that one president can immediately promote multiple justices on the court to sway decisions in the direction he or she desires. This term came about when FDR attempted to bias the Supreme Court in this way, but the Supreme Court at the time came down strongly against it and the public didn’t support it, just as the majority of voters don’t support it now.

So the word warriors found a new way to fight the battle—they redefined the term. They now say that President Trump, having appointed a record number of judges during his term in office, has “packed the courts” with conservative judges. They want to confuse voters and use the disparaged term to blame Trump and Republicans, hoping voters won’t notice or understand. They even redefine the word “constitutional” when they say that the confirmation hearing of Amy Coney Barrett is unconstitutional, meaning not that it violates the U.S. Constitution but that it’s being done with haste to confirm a judge with whom they disagree.

As George Orwell predicted so eloquently in his dystopian novels, controlling language means controlling minds, which in turn means stifling freedom. Some may say that this is just about words, that sticks and stones can break your bones. But words can actually break your will. Among the battles ahead for conservatives, the battle of words will be one of the most important.

Bob Zeidman has a Bachelor of Art and a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University. He is an inventor and the founder of successful high-tech Silicon Valley firms including Zeidman Consulting and Software Analysis and Forensic Engineering. He also writes novels; his latest is the political satire “Good Intentions.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.