What’s in a word?


Modern-day slavery…Fiscal cliff…Marriage equality…Obamacare…Gun control…Adoption equality

When the rhetoric surrounding an issue becomes the issue itself.

Last week’s conversation around “symbols” really got me thinking about how words or phrases can be used to evoke an slipperyemotional response in people in order to get them to support certain policies or points of view. How many times have we heard politicians use language that stirs us up on the inside (whether in a good or bad way) and makes us want to do something? Sometimes the catch phrases they use are arbitrary but like sheep we follow behind them because… they sound good. And let’s be honest, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News don’t do anything but replay these same messages over and over and over again, further bombarding us with political rhetoric. So what are we to do with these messages?


Sometimes I feel like political rhetoric is often used in a way that doesn’t really give people an option of making an informed decision or pretty much forces people to choose one side of the argument. I mean who would really argue against  a policy to end modern-day slavery? And certainly no one would argue against marriage equality right? I mean don’t get me wrong. I get the point. But I think we can agree that in some cases, the rhetoric does not accurately reflect the issue.

I think part of the issue is that we try to oversimplify huge social problems by reducing them to rhetoric that has absolutely nothing to do with the real issues. Maybe it’s best if we just stop the wordplay and do the work that needs to be done, instead of having meaningless conversations generated by petty words.

Any thoughts?


3 responses to “What’s in a word?

  • Rabi07

    Wow, I seriously love this post! Great insight and critical thinking. I definitely agree with you about your opinion and words and symbols. I would take this a step further and argue that advocacy, public policy, and nonprofit organizations alike are keen to this phenomenon. If the organizations are the first two I believe they are more deliberate in their political and social rhetoric to audiences.

    I always think about it in this way: words and symbols move and drive us to action. We can feel empowered based on a variety of factors and that feeling may not always last but at least it was there for a little while.

    Sometimes I think we pick apart huge systemic social issues and try to get bits and pieces through the legislative process in order to “soften the blow.” In a stagnant climate that can often feel as little change is being made-being a radical has continually shown it won’t get you or whoever you represent-anywhere.

    A few of my favorite catch phrases have actually started on twitter, LOL.

  • bucherj

    Excellent post and definitely something for us as social workers to think critically about. I think this is a case where these types of phrases catch on and we’re supposed to subscribe to the idea or its opposite without much middle ground being proposed.

  • Teresa D May

    Great research on this very heartwrenching topic. When men and women do not rise up with indignation that propels them to act then we have this phrase “nothing changes if we do not make them change”tdm

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