Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The "C" Word

Words are funny things. In the most simple sense, they exist to convey explicit meaning. A word has a specific definition, articulated in any number of dictionaries, and its use is intended to express this specific idea. In fact, these dictionaries could, in theory, serve as translation devices, converting seemingly random phonetic combinations into comprehensible meaning.

But, language is not so simple, for there exists an additional layer of connotational meaning in each word we utter. There may be a simple explicit meaning for a word in a given context, but that word may also carry a judgment or moral evaluation along with it. If we fail to recognize the existence of this connotational meaning, an important component of communication is lost.

Additionally, especially once we enter into the world of rhetoric, this implicit connotational meaning often overshadows the explicit message of the speaker in question. True, this is typically the sign of someone who either has a poor grasp of the language or is intent upon deceiving his audience (or both). But despite how poorly this phenomenon reflects upon those who employ it, language and its use cannot be understood without paying respect to this technique.

To demonstrate this phenomenon in action, I give you this post by a gentleman by the name of MacRanger.

MacRanger is upset by Representative John Murtha's recent statement that he would neither join today's military nor encourage others to do so. Now, I completely understand MacRanger's anger here -- Murtha's hawkish credentials make his criticisms particularly stinging to those who would make apologies for this ridiculous endeavor in Iraq. Were I bent that way, I too would be looking for a method to devalue his message. But, since I have a relatively strong grasp of the English language, I doubt I would follow MacRanger's lead.
Murtha needs to shut his chickensh_t pie-hole. Other's might not want to say that, but this ex-military career man will. There are two ways to undermine our military. 1) Give up secrets, 2) Give in to cowardess [sic].


…Your're not the only one whose served and said "War is hell". You pathetic coward.
He then goes on to approvingly quote an extremely disturbing memo by General Patton -- wherein he demands that soldiers who are suffering from trauma disorders be denied psychological intervention -- to underline his central theme: John Murtha is a coward.


Well, let me ask this question. Had John Murtha instead demanded that we stay the course or, better yet, increase the intensity of our aggression, would that make him courageous? Does MacRanger consider his support for the Iraq War a mark of bravery? In fact, is any statement -- pro or con -- made 10,000 miles from the frontline indicative of anything with respect to bravery or cowardice?

Of course not. And I'm willing to bet that MacRanger understands this (although, I'm more than willing to be proven wrong on this assertion). However, "coward" and "cowardice" are words heavy with negative connotational meaning. It might not be accurate in this context, but it does serve the purpose of tarring Murtha on the cheap. Why waste the effort of explaining why Murtha's position is wrong when one can simply call him names?

Since I don't expect an answer from MacRanger, I'll offer one: we're not in grade school anymore. When I want to insult someone, I'll use words that accurately describe his behavior and why his behavior is wrong. It just seems like the grown-up thing to do. In this way I feel that I respect both myself and my audience.

But, this grown-up stuff isn't for everyone. It's still a free country, after all. So, if this is your level of dialogue MacRanger, knock yourself out. And when you're ready to sit at the grown-up table with the rest of us, we'll all be waiting.
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