Somewhere along the line, many of us, as a country, have gotten off track. What used to be plainly understood English has been creatively and often destructively manipulated for the express purpose of misinterpretation, misunderstanding, misdirection, or as an outright means of avoiding a simple, direct answer to a legitimate question.

Somewhere along the line, many of us, as a country, have gotten off track. What used to be plainly understood English has been creatively and often destructively manipulated for the express purpose of misinterpretation, misunderstanding, misdirection, or as an outright means of avoiding a simple, direct answer to a legitimate question.
No doubt clever wordsmiths have been at this obfuscation since the beginning of time, but it seems to have bloomed into the normalized language used everywhere, by almost everyone. As I drive by a car dealership, I no longer see “Used Cars” signs. Instead they are now “Pre-owned Vehicles.” The distinction can be important because a used car is clearly what it says it is, used by someone else before you consider buying it. Pre-owned, on the other hand has a softening effect. Actually the manufacturer and possibly the dealership has already “owned” (as in paid for) a brand new car before you drive it off the show floor. The term is intentionally less precise in the mind of the potential customer which is the intent of avoiding the word “used.” Owned seems to imply perhaps pampered and cared for, while used connotes tired and worn. It's pure advertising psychology.
In the sports world, basketball players no longer jump, they “elevate” and a basket is no longer shot, it is “knocked down.” Announcers seem to like using multiple syllable words in place of single syllables, perhaps to fill up a few extra seconds of air time when little is happening, even though the alternate, creative terms become over-used and boring in very short order.
And so we come to the political rhetoric that has become infected with the same disease. Politicians on both sides of the ever widening aisle find new ways to avoid answering direct questions. How many times in the increasingly rare town forums, when asked a direct question, do we hear a politician side step an honest answer by saying “I'll have my staff look into that and get back with you.” That, of course, is code for “I don't have any idea how to answer that” or “I don't want to tell you what I think in public.” And of course, the staff never does “get back” to anyone.
Another use of words that we must begin to recognize is a simple word like “the,” as in “THE liberals” or “THE conservatives. This unfair and thoughtless over-extended use is intended to categorize all who do not think the same as the writer or speaker, as being an opponent or enemy. In fact, everyone has some situations in which they display one quality or the other. Using “liberal” or “conservative” as a weapon is thoughtless over-generalization which leads us ever deeper into the ideological gap that is threatening our country and democracy, encouraging and supporting impenetrable barriers to compromise.
The award for the most creative misuse of language is “alternate facts.” The term implies that there exist other facts that contradict those which we know, or that there are facts which are somehow “better.” But the definition (Merriam-Webster) of “fact” is “something that has objective reality” or “something that has actual existence” so the implication of “alternate fact” is that we do not have all of them and there are other facts that will change the truth. However the definition of “alternate” is “taking the place of” or “different” which suggests that your facts are not facts and mine are. If we are to solve this growing problem of non-compromise, we need to return to honest language and say exactly what we mean.




Mike Davis writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.