Calling things by their right names: a lesson from Confucius

Writing yesterday about what Obama’s minions are calling our  “kinetic military activity” in Libya, I noted that the folks presiding over Orwell’s Newspeak would have liked the phrase “kinetic military activity.” As a mendacious and evasive euphemism for “war” it is hard to beat.  But Orwell is not the only important thinker the Obama administration’s assault on the English language brings to mind. There is also Confucius.


I read Confucius a zillion years ago in a comparative religion class. I remember almost nothing of the Analects, however, so I am grateful to a reader for supplying this bit from Book 13, Chapter 3.

Asked by a disciple how to rule a state properly, Confucius replies that it begins with rectifying the names:

“If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be conducted successfully. When affairs cannot be conducted successfully, propriety will not flourish. When propriety does not flourish, punishments will not be properly meted out. When punishments are not properly meted out, the people will not know how to conduct themselves.”

That was written about 475 B.C. When will we catch up with its wisdom?


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