Saturday, October 11, 2008

Do Words Matter?

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

George W. Bush
The only thing we have to fear is ... you know ... being scared. In other words, don’t be scared.

Nancy Pelosi
I've said it before and I'll say it again. In the new year, with a new Congress and a new president, fear will be off the table.

Barack Obama
Well, so here’s. What I would say. The only thing we have to fear. Is four more years. Of the same. Failed. Uh. Economic policy. And fear. Uh. Itself.

John McCain
The point is, the only thing we have to fear, my friends, is — as I found out years ago in a prison cell — fear itself.

Joe Biden
When I walked through the streets of Scranton, a senior citizen, an ex-millworker named Bob Pastaverde, living on social security and a small pension, he stopped me and he asked, “Senator Biden,” he asked, “do we have anything to fear?” And I told him, “No, Bob, nothing. The only thing we have to fear, you and me, is, as my mother would say, God bless her, fear itself.”

Sarah Palin
With a team of mavericks like John McCain and me, and also the strong American workers in those small towns just like Wasilla all over this great country of ours, also, well, doggone it, the only thing we have to be afraid of is just plain ol’ bein’ afraid, youbetcha.


The Barefoot Bum said...

Funny. The Palin version would be funnier if she just answered a different question.

Sarge said...

Language and its precision is more important than people think.

I am a former air traffic controller, and "phraseology" can be downright deadly if the incorrect is used. Around twenty years ago an air liner crashed in New York. The pilot told ATC that he was at "minimim fuel". Under ICAO that means he's at an emergency fuel status. Under FAA that meant he had a higher fuel status. I think the aircraft was from a South American country and meant the ICAO definition. The FAA people handled him under the FAA definition. This little oopsie cost several lives.

When you go into a store are you a "customer" or "consumer"? A "consumer" is something like a beef steer or slaughter hog. Given just enough consideration to bring it to where it can be harvested. A customer is part of a two way exchange with certain expectations and a level of active participation. Isn't it odd that you are regarded by the higher-ups of the world as a "consumer"?

How many people say, "I belong to..." rather than "I am a member of..."? The same, it would seem to me, would apply as above.

Anonymous said...

@ Barefoot: The question Palin was struggling to answer was, "What book did you read last year?"

The Exterminator said...

The Palin version would be funnier if she just answered a different question.
Do titles matter? Sometimes, Mrs. Ex accuses me of being too subtle when I try to use humor to make a serious point. Anyone who knows me would find her criticism laughable, because "subtle" is not a word that would readily spring to mind to describe anything I do. But maybe -- just this one time -- she was right.

As Mark Twain said: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Or: "What newspapers and magazines do you read?"

PhillyChief said...

Sarge, I think those subtleties happen with a frequency most are unaware of. I watched Kitchen Nightmares the other night and after Ramsey gave advice to a chef, he suggested he take his advice, "not because I'm 10 times better than you, but...". Yes, he got the guy to focus on the merits of the advice and not because it was coming from Ramsey, but still the fucker snuck in a little 'I'm 10 times better than you'. I had a boss/client like that. Every employee she had would come out of a meeting saying, "I don't know why, but even when she compliments me, I feel like shit". That 'consumer/customer' thing is nice and subtle. So is the 'member/belong to' thing.

We've seen 8 years of playing games with terminology. Unlike Ex's examples where everyone means the same thing only expresses it differently, there's a lot of people who mean very different things but try to say it in such a way as to appear as something else. If you're not paying attention, those things zip on by.

The Nerd said...

Great stuff! Next quote to mangle: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". :)

Sarge said...

I just remembered something that happened at our local VA while I was waiting to see a doc.

Typical waiting room (no skeletons) and there were eight of us sitting, and as usual, one was... less than kempt and there was evidence that he and Mr. Beer had been in intimate contact prior to his coming to the hospital.

We were talking about our viet Nam years, and our rather rumpled companion announced himself to have been in the 1st cavalry division, and followed it with a statement most of us hadn't heard in decades. This is delivered with a scornful expression and a voice of disdain: "If you ain't cav, you ain't shit"!

One of our number said, "Really"?

Our cav alumni asserted this was true, and repeated his slogan.

His interlocutor observed that this was honesty he hadn't expected to hear, someone actually admitting to be "shit".

He pointed out that this syntax indicated that if you ain't, that is, ARE NOT cav, then you ARE NOT shit. Conversly, if you ARE cave, then, you ARE shit.

It was a lively ten minutes discussion until security came, laid hands upon our bellowing, cursing, threatening former cav member, and took him away.

The things ya do when you're bored...

Miss Nerd, of late I've been thinking a bloody revolution might not come amiss.

DB said...

Fear is how democracy works. It almost seems that those who fear for their livelihood vote Democratic, those who fear for their live vote Republican. The parties and these candidates need people to be scared, just in different ways.

The Exterminator said...

... there's a lot of people who mean very different things but try to say it in such a way as to appear as something else. If you're not paying attention, those things zip on by.
Yeah, two examples spring immediately to my mind. I'd say that "pro-life" is one of those weasel-y misnomers. As most of my regular readers know, I've been urging our side to refer to the anti-abortionists as "pro-forced-maternity." I also think "Country First" is a positive-sounding slogan that barely disguises the worst fascistic sentiments.

You may have given me a very good idea for a future post.

Next quote to mangle: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country".
George W. Bush might say, "I know it's hard. It's hard! But don't ask what your country can do for you. The American people should ask ... they should ask ... heh heh ... what you can do for me."

If you're gonna start parsing slogans and common expressions for syntax, you'll drive yourself nuts (or, at any rate, more so than you are already). The one phrase that always makes me scratch my head is: "I could care less."

So you're saying The only thing politicians have to fear is the public's loss of fear itself. I do agree with that, to some extent. But you did notice that this was not really a post about fear, right?

infinity said...

Good representations.

And nice point.

So why has our country decided that the preference is for everyday pinhead to run the country?

My father-in-law used to talk about how much he liked Bush because Bush talks just like the guys he used to hang out with at the bar.

My response was, so you would want your old bar buddies running the country?

Seems words do matter. Just unimpressive ones.

PhillyChief said...

That's a whole other can of worms, Infinity. I can't fathom that whole notion of 'he/she is an idiot like me, so I'll vote for him/her'. It's also that nonsense of "elitist" being a bad word. Name me one time where you'd not want to hire or contract the most intelligent and best person in their field? Do you think that way when picking a doctor? A lawyer? How about a contractor? A plumber? A mechanic? Come on, but the most important job in the world, the leader of the US and arguably the entire Western world? Yeah, some shmuck I can drink a beer with is best suited for that. Wtf?

I want a plug for any post ideas I inspire. ;)

yunshui said...

I take issue with the idea that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". What about spiders? They're fucking scary.

DB said...

But you did notice that this was not really a post about fear, right?

Obviously not. :P

Anonymous said...

Ex: My take on "I could care less," (which is a phrase I use, but I usually (not always) have a good reason for using it with the meaning I intend (if that makes sense (hopefully?)))) is, "I could care less, but you (or it) is not worth the effort of attempting to care less." Unfortunately, I'm lazy, so "I could care less" is what comes out. Not that anyone would care.

Philly: Back when the Republicans were screaming for term limits (to eliminate the professionals, ya' know), I wondered why we wanted to remove the people who actually understood how government and politics works, and how to make the system work (usually). Now I know that the reason the conservatives wanted to remove the people who undertand government was so that people like Bush, McCain, Palin, et al could get in. Because, obviously, they don't have a clue how to make it work.

Anonymous said...

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The Exterminator said...

My response was, so you would want your old bar buddies running the country?
And, clearly, you expected your father-in-law to understand your point. But I'm afraid that lots of Americans would answer "yes."

I want a plug for any post ideas I inspire.
How's this?

You're right. Roosevelt should have said: The only things we have to fear are fear itself and fucking scary spiders. It seems like the natural response to the Republicans' claim, in the previous election, of a tarantula in every pot. In fact, I'm sure FDR actually would have said that had he anticipated the Web.

I'm disappointed that you didn't say "I'm afraid not."

Hey, you can throw in all the parentheses and bogus rationales you like, but I could care less.

Thanks. I didn't know they were airing that commercial in Australia. I can't even count how many times I told my campaign manager that you guys aren't allowed to vote in the U.S. election. Seriously though, judging by the Aussies with whom I've come into contact throughout my life, I wish you could.

Sarge said...

Just got back from a reenactment, and we had discussed this very thing. We all remembered an occasion about eight years ago which one of our now twenty-somethings contributed much hilarity.

The young man was about fourteen then, and we were breaking camp after a really nice weekend. There were eight of us on our section, taking down and folding tents, stowing things...and The Young Man turned to his father and said,
"I'll be back in a few minutes, I have to go fornicate".

As you can imagine, all activity stopped and we all looked at the boy like he'd just grown an eye in the middle of his forehead. His father said, "You...WHAT"??!!

Boy said, "I'm guessing "fornicate" doesn't have anything to do with taking a crap"?

I said, "Well, I've heard about people who..." and was quickly swatted as to the back of the head by a nearby woman.

Stepmother explained that the mot juste was actually "defecate", the word he used was that of a rather tawdry act of procreation. It was time his father taught him the difference before something MORE embarrassing happened.

There was some chortling about it as he walked away. We were all amused by the fact that there was confusion between fornication and defecation.

One of thewomen said, "still, when fornication has been done EXCEPTIONALLY WELL..."

But no one smacked HER on the head.

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