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Belmont Club

Free the Dictionary

January 18th, 2011 - 7:42 pm

CNN is now apologizing for the use of the word “crosshairs” in general political speech, as shown in the video after the “Read More” jump. The implication is that the word itself has been used to facilitate a hate crime. That is untrue, as former New York City Mayor Ed Koch observes. But maybe the belief is that if a lie is repeated for long enough then it eventually becomes true. Then power follows. “Real power is the ability to define what the fight is about.” The entire discussion moves into a rigged casino. Control words and you control truth. George Orwell understood this so well that he believed one of the first things every totalitarian ideology does is redefine the words in a language, purposefully, forcefully and relentlessly. In his novel 1984, he called this artificial language of totalitarianism Newspeak.

Orwell knew that,as someone once said, “you will not prevail just because you are right. If you know something but cannot communicate it, it’s as though you don’t know it.” Take away the words and you take away the power to express a contrary thought. And the best way to do this is to torture words until they meant what the narrative said they should say; by changing meanings until only the allowable meanings were left. Here is how:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meaning whatever.

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The word “crosshairs” has been singled out for this kind of treatment. It is going to be turned into an unmentionable word, to take its place alongside all the other unutterables in the Newspeak dictionary.  It’s going to be a word that Sarah Palin actually never said to Jared Loughner, but which she said to him. It will be the word that drove him crazy, and not the hallucinogens or the “conscience dreaming” he indulged in. It will be a word that everyone will eventually come to believe that Hitler invented.  And that will be the end of it. The process, according to Orwell, is simple: the word “crosshairs” is going to be thoroughly purged of any politically neutral connotations until it is a simple “hate” word. To use “crosshairs” will henceforward come to mean “to threaten to shoot someone,” whereas to actually threaten to shoot someone will be defined as “victim’s outrage.”

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