Rule Five Terms You Shouldn’t Use Friday

I ran this about three years back, and thought it was time to trot it out as a reminder.

English is a language that’s forever changing; it’s been said that while other languages adopt words and phrases, English chases other languages down dark alleys, hits them over the head and goes through their pockets for loose grammar.  (This observation is made more poignant for yr. obdt. as this Friday finds my own dear Mrs. Animal and me in Japan, where I am functionally illiterate and struggle to make myself understood because I don’t savvy the lingo.)

But even English has standards, and as a popular American talk-radio guy is fond of saying, words mean things.  So here are some words and phrases that people need to stop abusing.

Capitalism

This, like many on the list, is bandied about by plenty of folks who should know better.  Here’s the reason people should stop using this word: “Capitalism,” unlike socialism and communism, doesn’t have an underlying ideology or set of dogma.  There’s no -ism there; it’s just liberty.  What we call capitalism is in fact the free, unfettered, lassaiz-faire of people doing exactly what they choose to do with their own skills, abilities, finances and resources, unfettered by government, unshackled by regulation.  It is people freely choosing what the do with their wealth.  It is the result of free trade, where people exchange value for value by choice, in voluntary transactions in which both parties gain.  It is a market unhampered by any meddling, where the economic trends are not forced from above by fiat but the results of millions of people making trillions of economic decisions, ever hour, every day, in a great freewheeling machine that no person or group of people could ever hope to control without screwing the whole thing up.  This has been demonstrated time and a-damned-gain, see Venezuela, Cuba and Zimbabwe for recent examples.

Gun Violence

Guns are inanimate objects.  There can be no such thing as “gun violence.”  There is only violence, planned and perpetrated by people.

This one is especially egregious as used in policy debates today, because, even though far more people un the United States today are murdered by fists and feet, nobody talks about “fist violence.”  It is only when guns are involved that this term is dragged out.

Whether deliberate or intentional, the term distracts from the real problem – that bad people do bad things – and focuses instead on chunks of plastic, wood and metal that can take no action and possess no moral agency or capacity.  A gun by itself is a moral null; it can take no action and left alone, will never hurt anything or anyone.  It is only when a human being picks up that gun and uses it for good or ill that any judgement of violence can come into the picture.

Privilege

Deriving from a Latin term that translates loosely as “private law,” this is another term that is badly abused in today’s discourse, mostly be people who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

American treasure Thomas Sowell noted that “privilege” is the idea that a white coal miner in West Virginia has some unseen advantages over a black Harvard graduate in New York.  As used in such a manner, it trivializes people and assigns them arbitrary categories based on their skin color, ethic background or religious affiliation; in other words, it’s bigotry, pure and simple.  As a middle-aged white male, I am supposed to meekly acknowledge the benefits of “privilege,” even though my Dad was a farmer most of his life, I went to college on the GI Bill and have worked for and earned everything I have.  I guess my privilege isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Decimate/Decimation

Decimation is a term that originated in the Roman army.  When a legion was seen to have failed in courage, one soldier of every ten was executed, pour encourager les autre.  (Voltaire would have loved these guys.)  The literal meaning of the term “decimate” means exactly that – to reduce in number by ten percent.

So, when a vapid talking head on a news program makes that claim that a certain terrorist group has been “decimated” he is saying that they managed to engage a nation-state’s military and only took ten percent casualties.  That’s a pretty good performance by a bunch of illiterates with AK-47s and an absolute cluster-fuck on the part of any modern military.

Democracy

The United States is a Constitutional Republic, not a democracy.

In fact, our Constitution, probably the most effective governing document in the history of mankind as it was originally written, contains specific safeguards against direct democracy.  The Senate is one of those safeguards.  The Electoral College is another.

Noticed, have you, that those are two institutions that the political Left in this country would like to do away with?

We do not nor should we have government by direct democracy.  That is no more than mob rule or, as Benjamin Franklin was rumored to have said, “two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.”  We have a Republic, with a Constitution that clearly defines the roles and the limitations on the various branches of government.  We have a Senate that was originally supposed to represent the interests of their states, and we have an Electoral College to make sure that a few high-population states don’t end up dictating to the entire country.  Let’s keep it that way.

This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list.  But it’s a good start.

Any suggested additions?