In the novel 1984, the author George Orwell invented a new word. It was called Newspeak, and here is the Wikipedia’s explanation of what it is:
“This suits the totalitarian regime of the Party, whose aim is to make any alternative thinking—”thoughtcrime”, or “crimethink” in the newest edition of Newspeak—impossible by removing any words or possible constructs which describe the ideas of freedom, rebellion and so on. One character, Syme, says admiringly of the shrinking volume of the new dictionary: “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”
Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly — an in North Carolina, too — appear to have followed that lead. I call their genre “GOPspeak.” In devising a bill for a $50,000 study of rising sea levels along the Virginia’s coast, they deliberate rewrote it to avoid terms that are apparently too politically charged — such as “sea level rise” or “climate change.”
From a story in The Virginian Pilot by my old pal Scott Harper, one of the best reporters anywhere:
State lawmakers ran into a problem this year when recommending a study on rising sea levels and their potential impacts on coastal Virginia.
It was not a scientific problem or a financial one. It was linguistic.
They discovered that they could not use the phrases “sea level rise” or “climate change” in requesting the study, in part because of objections from Republican colleagues and also for fear of stirring up conservative activists, some of whom believe such terms are liberal code words.
But wait, Scott’s story gets even better. One lawmaker, Del. Chris Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, told the paper that “sea level rise” is a “left-wing term.”
At each stage of the studies, the state has altered its verbiage, said Laura Mc-Kay, state director of coastal zone management programs [for the Department of Environmental Quality].
At first, McKay said, the studies were about “climate change.” Then they were changed to “sea level rise.” Now they are about “coastal resilience.” And while the studies themselves are slightly different, McKay said, political sensitivities played a role.
“It’s kind of silly,” she said. “But the reality is, some of the phrases just really send people screaming. We want to use language that doesn’t alienate people.”
I can see a great future for GOPspeak. Soon, bills about guns won’t refer to as guns, but “self-defense implements.” They could label birth control “chemicals that thwart God’s procreative plan.” As it is, they’ve already been trying for years to redefine abortion as “murder,” whether it follows a transvaginal ultrasound or not.
Got any other suggestions for GOPspeak? If so, I’d love to hear them. This could be great fodder for a future column.