Precise use of language

I’m struck by the loose use of language we’ve come to accept, sometime without even thinking about it.  For example, consider the word “free.”  How often have we heard a mail-order offer: buy one and get a second one free “just pay shipping and handling”?  Typically, the product is some cheap piece of plastic and the shipping and handling charges are so overblown (after all, the second item won’t be separately shipped, so why should there be a separate charge at all), they are probably making a profit on the second, supposedly free, item!  Also, before the Olympics, I received a mail request to support the U.S. team with a donation.  For a donation of $20 or more, I’d receive a “free” Olympics cap.  In other words, I’d have to pay $20 and the only thing I’d receive in return was the cap.  How is that free?

The next example is more cynical.  In Obama’s TV ad that is running here quite often, he says his plan calls for the rich to pay a little more so we can “pay down the debt.”  Huh?  No one is talking about paying down the debt.  We can’t even eliminate the yearly deficit.  True, Obama may not know the difference between “debt” and “deficit” but his ad writers sure should.

Or consider the fact that we routinely say that an Olympian “won” a bronze medal.  Well, no.  The Olympian lost the event.  He/she was awarded a bronze medal for not losing as badly as all but two other competitors in the event.

I’m sure you can think of lots of other, perhaps better, examples to share.

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  • JKB

    I read this over at Econolog the other day.…are_you_asking.html  

    David Henderson rightly points out the use of language where we “ask” some to pay more in taxes but in reality they are “required” to pay those taxes at the point of the tax man’s gun. 

    It’s important to be careful in your use of language. That’s why I always, for example, use the term “U.S. government” when I mean “U.S. government” and don’t, as so many people do, use the term “we” or “us” when I mean “U.S. government.” 

  • weathtd

    Obama-rama-ding-dong says that Romney wants to cut taxes on the rich.  The truth is that he wants to NOT raise their taxes.  I get a little tired of hearing “extend the Bush tax cuts”.  No, you’re not extending cuts, you’re raising the tax rate to previous levels.  That’s still raising taxes.  Also, the debate is framed around whether small business or government drives the economy.  Both are wrong, the consumer drives the economy.  Small businesses exist to service the consumer.  The way to stimulate the economy is to stimulate consumer spending which will decrease the unemployment rate to meet the demand.  The increase in employment will further increase demand.  Economics 101.  Put the money in the hands of the consumer.  If the “stimulus” had been paid directly to taxpayers instead of being used to buy off political cronies, the economic mess would be over already.

  • Ymarsakar

    Since Obama’s richer than most Americans he looted from, what’s he complaining about.

  • MacG

    I once received a phone call informing me that I had ‘won a diamond tennis bracelet’ just pay S&H.  If I won it and it’s free then send it to me.  Never got it and back to my quote “If it’s free, I can’t afford it.”

    Now has anybody noticed that when O was running for office and Kerry for that matter and virtually any other Democrat for the last eleven years went on about how NOBODY benefited from the Bush tax cuts except the RICH has changed to we want to keep the cuts for the middle class but raise them on the RICH.  So ow after eleven years someone has told their script writers that there were tax cuts for the middle class all along.  They sure expended a lot of green house gasses telling us otherwise…maybe now we can save the planet ;/

  • MacG

    One of the key rules of hermeneutics (the art and science of interpretation) is that ‘words get their meaning by definition in their proper context’.  If there is no agreement on that then the one who disagrees would have no idea what they are disagreeing about.

    Ever drive somebody that is telling where they want to go and have them tell you to turn right but point left?

    ABC (Already Been Choreographed)’News’ 
    Chick-fil-A Has ‘Record-Setting’ Sales on Appreciation Day
    ” after the chain’s chief made anti-gay comments.”
    Actually it was a solidarity statement to support Chick-fil-A after several Mayors made anti-Chick-fil-A comments and said they would not allow the chain in ‘their’ cities.  

  • jj

    We have accepted imprecision – or outright illiteracy – for so long that when you do speak precisely you come off sounding funny.

    I once sat in a courtroom and listened to a lawyer’s peroration to the effect that he found something some poor schnook was attempting to assert “incredible.”  The judge, a homer if ever there was one, and incidentally the man who held the Nassau County record for being overturned on appeal, chimed in that it was “incredulous.”  (“It” was incredulous, not “him.”)  So of course the matter was appealed, and in his open the same lawyer thought he’d spotted a good line, so he began by saying the previous judge had found it not only incredible, but incredulous.  The illiterate on the appellate bench didn’t even blink.  I didn’t care one way or the other about the case, but I did have to work not to laugh out loud, as I thought to myself: “wow – we got two judges and a lawyer, all of whom you’d suppose must have gotten at least through the 8th grade in school or they wouldn’t be where they are, who think “incredulous” is a weightier form of “incredible.”  (That’s incredulous, I’m incredible?)  So much for the linguistic precision of a profession that prides itself precisely on precision.  How do you not laugh at these poseurs?         



    The “hucksters” are real pros at misleading, not unlike headlines. Anyone wanna take a stab at a rewrite? 😉

     “Economic report shows 163,000 new jobs”
    “Businesses Add 163,000 jobs in July” USA Today
    “Jobs report presents mixed blessing for Obama” AP
    “Economic report shows 163,000 new jobs — but slight uptick in unemployment rate” NY Daily News
    “Economy Creates 163,000 New Jobs but Rate Rises to 8.3%” CNBC
    “Economy’s Job Engine Revved Up in July” NBC News
    “Stronger Than Expected Jobs Report Shows 163,000 New Jobs Added In July, Unemployment Up To 8.3%” Media-ite

  • MacG

    Sadie this reminds me of the business signs that we saw around here in Marin where the business was perpetually going out of business for years and at one time had signs “Going Out For Business Sale”.  It also reminds me of a clever sign campaign “SALE! all prices up 15%!“.

    Look the numbers are UP! UP is GOOD cuz we have been DOWN for so long.  UP is GOOD! The numbers are POSITIVE how can that be bad?  You Anti Obama types are so NEGATIVE that you can’t see the progress(ive). 😉


    Here’s a two-fer for ya MacG (video runs about 7 min.)

    Afterburner with Bill Whittle: Going out of Business
    Could California simply go out of business?

  • Charles Martel

    SADIE’s list of Enabler Media headlines reminds me of the old punchline when the wife catches her husband shagging the babysitter on the living room couch. As he rises, still rampant, he implores, “Who are you going to believe? Your loving husband or your lying eyes?”
    I think tens of millions of us have reached the point where we’re gonna believe our lying eyes. The Enablers can tart up their headlines all they want, but when the best that a $15 trillion economy can cough up is 163,000 new jobs for a population of 312 million people, even morons will start to get the picture.