What’s in a Word

Words are powerful tools that can convey any number of ideas. Unfortunately, as with any tool, words can be used for both good and evil. Some people use words to express ideas of liberty, others use words to entertain, but the state uses words to deceive:

“Never believe anything until it is officially denied,” is a useful saying, advising scepticism towards whatever the government claims to be doing. This is the right mental attitude for any journalist or observer of the political scene. But for sniffing out official or journalistic mendacity, evasion and ignorance, a good guide is the use of tired and misleading words or phrases, their real purpose being not to illuminate but to conceal.

Suspicion of an attempt to deceive should be aroused by any sighting of the word “community”, as in “international community” or “Islamic community”: the phrases suggest solidarity and consensus of opinion where it does not exist. More toxic are policies pretending that there is something called “the community” that can look after people hitherto cared for by the state. When care in the community was introduced in Britain, it meant that people living in mental hospitals which were being sold by the government were kicked out to be looked after by a community that either feared or ignored them.

A good wordsmith can portray one idea while actually saying the exact opposite. By saying the “Islamic community” supports terrorism a politician can portray every Muslim as a supporter of terrorism without actually saying every Muslim supports terrorism. The article has many more examples of words to keep an ear open for.