Policing the Language Police

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Ed Kilgore linked today to a Tim Noah piece about the misuse of the word “Christian,” and I was all ready to throw in my own two cents about this until I clicked the link and read Tim’s first paragraph:

In November I introduced a periodic blog feature called “Language Cop” to “keep track of unacceptable words and catchphrases that enter the political dialogue.” In that column I exiled the terms “optics” and “inflection point.” Earlier this month I inveighed against “pivot,” and last week I suggested this euphemism be replaced with a new term, “shake,” in deference to America’s first multiplatform gaffe. Today I banish “Christian ”—not the word itself, but a specific, erroneous usage.

Hold on there, pardner. Here’s what I want to know: why do so many people get so upset about particular new pieces of jargon that enter widespread use? There’s nothing wrong with optics or inflection point or pivot. They’re perfectly good descriptive words. “Optics” doesn’t mean quite the same thing as “appearances” and “inflection point” definitely doesn’t mean the same thing as “significant developments.” That makes them genuinely useful. “Pivot” seems fine too. All three of these terms seem like they’re both nicely descriptive and full of meaning. When someone says “optics,” for example, I know that they’re talking not just about general appearances, but about how something plays in the media and how it plays with public opinion. Using the word optics also suggests that you’re referring to a highly-planned operation managed by media pros, not just some random event on the street.

Anyway, if Tim Noah can be a language cop, then I can be a language cop cop. And I hereby declare all these words just fine. Anyone want to fight about it?

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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