Writing Tips by Gary Speer

Tips for writers, musing about writing and life

When politicians redefine the language we all suffer the consequences

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I have another blog, Just a Guy Who Reads the Papers, where I sound off loudly about various politicians and political foibles. I have tried to keep this site very “apolitical.” I think I have succeeded pretty well.

But when I heard the latest idiocy concerning Republican leadership and their “truth squad” attacking Sen. Barack Obama for using the expression “lipstick on a pig” — they accused him of making a sexist remark aimed at Gov. Sarah Palin — I was aghast. The account I read said the accusation was being made by a woman who is a former GOP governor of Massachusetts. It appears something was lacking in her education regarding language usage and idioms. The phrase “lipstick on a pig” is a commonly used phrase referring to trying to make something appear different than it actually is. It has NO sexist references to it. Which brings me to the point of this post/”rant”: Have we truly lost all touch with reality when it comes to language meaning and usage??

Some years ago, I decided I had found a great way to invest some extra money and make my fortune. (It didn’t work.) I took $3,000 I had saved up, went to a futures broker, and opened an account to trade in wheat futures. In the course of this misadventure, two things happened: I learned enough insider “lingo” about futures and commodity trading that I could have written a convincing story about it, and I not only lost my money, I ended up several thousand dollars in the hole.

A great deal of the problems I had with futures investing stemmed from my ignorance of basic terminology. I had read some books about the futures markets, I knew enough to buy and sell contracts, I knew supposedly how to protect myself from sudden market ups and downs. At least I THOUGHT I knew all these things. When the markets actually began to shift rapidly, I was just slow enough to react as I fumbled around and tried to figure out what was going on that I lost my shirt. (See? Another common expression in the English language. I still have my shirt, but metaphorically I “lost” it, along with several thousand dollars.)

If our political leadership in this country, for whatever political party, has become so totally ignorant that “lipstick on a pig” is lambasted as a sexist remark, with apparently no understanding of the idiom itself, then I fear for the Republic.

Language has meaning. When we or our leaders choose to ignore that meaning and make it whatever we or they wish it to be, then we all suffer the consequences.

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