The Telling Use of Language: Why Accuracy and Inaction Matter | Timothy Dennis


It has increasingly become the fashion to ignore the need for precise and considered language among much of the everyday discourse that people conduct.  The defence of this is often one indicative of laziness, that the correct use of words is irrelevant if one can be understood in any case. 

This can be evidenced by the irritation that some feel about the supposed pedantry of correcting the oft misused ‘less’ to ‘fewer’ when it is encountered. It is invariably remarked to be petty and a small transgression that should be let go. It would certainly be easy to be tempted to make such a small concession in order to enjoy an easier life, free from the stigma of having spoken out. 

This behaviour has strong parallels with the phenomenon of capitulation currently sweeping the UK and the US in response to demands for change under the guise of the movement ‘Black Lives Matter’ (BLM).  A particularly virulent demonstration of identity politics has corrupted the original premise of racial equality and evolved into a multi-faceted assault on a society condemned for being complicit in bigotry for not having indicated things we took to be self-evident.

 In response to the moral blackmail of the mob many ordinary people will, as ordinary people have done for centuries, prefer the quiet life.  This spawns demonstrations of virtue by posting on social media and similar gestures in order to avoid condemnation for not having done so.  Perhaps it might not be so bad after all if demonstrations to remove a statue were conceded to?  After all, it’s just a statue.

Leaving aside the enormous amount that could be said to refute this purely on the harm of selective revision of our national heritage, the well-intentioned acceptance of such a demand is agreeing to the laying of the pathway to hell.  In this case it is a pathway with a pronounced downward slope.  That first small step is a signal that coercion is possible and once given is openly inviting more.  Given all the indications of Marxist left-wing ideology that permeate the behaviour and demands of the protests that invitation will certainly be taken. 

An example for this is easy to demonstrate.  The frenzy among ordinary people and commercial organisations to prostrate themselves in surrender is increasing.  No longer are social media statements enough as these are increasingly denounced as mere ‘token gestures.’  They certainly are and the fear with which they were made can be sensed by their ungrateful recipients.  More instructive is the way in which the original demand is immediately disparaged upon being attained in order to act as a springboard for the next one.  Businesses have begun to trumpet their financial contributions to various anti-racism causes and compete among themselves to make ever-increasing pledges for the future.

Such craven behaviour only leads to calls for ever-loftier institutional circles to follow suit.  On 10 Jun 20 an article in the Guardian called for Britain to “think seriously about reparations for slavery.”  This is not the first time such a reprehensible idea has been put forward and the absence of moral courage was echoed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, only a week later.  The announcement on 18 Jun 20 by Lloyd’s of London and Greene King that they would fund black and minority ethnic charities was immediately used by those advancing the idea as evidence of supposed ‘reparations.’ 

The necessity to challenge the use of such language is obvious.  It is a ghastly use of a term with nothing to commend it, as if we were facing the defeated remnants of Germany in the aftermath of the World Wars.  If it goes unchallenged, then any of the meek and cringing behaviour carried out to appease the mob can immediately be used as evidence to support the mob’s claims and further its cause.  The preemptive and continued use of that single word ‘reparations’ is telling as it shines a light on the true nature of the speaker, framing them as the conqueror that holds all the cards, enabling them to dictate.

This nation should not be submitting, Versaille like, to the unconditional and ever-widening terms of a vocal and culturally divisive minority.  That treaty fostered the resentment that led to an even greater attempt at self-destruction despite being imposed by those that felt it was the justice of victory.  The demands of protesters who bear almost no resemblance to the premise ‘black lives matter’ have only the smug authority of those who have presumed their victory in advance.

The ideology of identity politics appears easier to go along with for its ostensibly moral virtues.  Avoiding the specifics of the language being used is easier because the message is obvious; the simple life.  The emboldening of protesters and the increasing scale of the demands are on display in the specific words that are being used.  Ignoring it now will only bring the reality of what is really being said into sharp focus when the monsters that are born from these concessions are let loose.  By then it will be far too late.  Some might naturally not want to reconcile with some of these ideas, finding it easier to argue that it can’t possible be that threatening.  On the strength of the evidence of what is happening in our society at the moment that is surely an unsustainable position. 

Language and society are malleable creations that evolve over the passage of time.  They should both be scrutinised and the subject of careful, incremental change.  We may otherwise find ourselves suddenly in the midst of a great and damaging upheaval that bears no relation to that first, very small, concession.  Seeking the simple life to appease those with very definite views could see this country sleepwalk into what Dr Jordan B Peterson describes as, “Tyranny, one step at a time.”


Photo by risingthermals on Flickr.

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