Decoding Political Language

March 18, 2011 5:14 pm 1 comment

Photo by DonkeyHotey

Language is an important aspect to political campaigns and an interesting vessel of post election communication. Let’s take a look at the meaning behind “politic speak” and explore the language behind politics. In doing so, we will reveal a linguistic distinction between liberal and conservative rhetoric even when the issues aren’t mentioned.

First, let’s discuss some phrases and their meanings you will commonly hear politicians use : Material inaccuracies are lies; misleading the public is lying; errors in judgment are big lies; shared responsibility are well organized lies; the official in question means the liar; and a man of integrity is a liar who got caught.

Seriously, there are a number of phrases that have a hidden meaning that you may not have even noticed. When a candidate is politicking they will refer to their surroundings in two different but important ways: You will hear the term “neighborhood” as well as “community.” For those without an untrained ear, the two words may appear to be synonyms with identical meaning. However, a deeper look reveals much about the user. Democrats and liberals are far more likely to use the term “community” than conservatives and Republicans who are likely to say “neighborhood.”

There are a number of reasons behind this: First, community evokes the coming together of individuals within a certain geographic or demographic area to be united behind a common cause or goal. On the other hand, a neighborhood evokes a collection of homes bound by some sort of geography and does not allude to some sort of shares responsibility toward one another. Think of it another way: you have community centers and a neighborhood pool; one suggests a publicly funded place for social activities under the management of a government authority, while the other suggests a fun place for families to spend time paid for by themselves. In other words, community implies government-run and neighborhood implies privately-run. Therefore, community is a liberal word and neighborhood a conservative term.

Even the etymology (origin of words) suggests the left-right divide between community and neighborhood. Community comes from the French  word comun, meaning belonging to all. We would all agree “belonging to all” refers to some sort of collectivist attitude. Meanwhile, neighborhood comes from the Saxon term neahgebur, a word used to describe dwellings located close to one another. Pay attention the next time you hear candidates speak and see if you spot to which ideologies the two words correspond.

The list goes on: Liberals like to say “undocumented worker,” unlike the conservative term “illegal alien.” One shows condemnation and the other neutrality. By the way, conservatives have lobbyists while liberals rely on activists. Fairness often refers to economic socialism while responsibility means laissez faire economics. Liberals like to “help” those in need while conservatives prefer to “assist.” Liberals worry about children while conservatives worry about future generations. And of course, conservatives like to say President Obama was born in “Kenya,” while liberals prefer the term “Hawaii.”

Pro-family is another term that has dual meanings. When a conservative says “pro-family” they are referring to pro-life, anti-gay marriage, advocating tough anti-child predatory legislation and complementarianism policies. For liberals, pro-family refers to social health care, gay rights and social safety net policies such as free lunch, social housing, unemployment benefits and subsidized child care.

Liberals and conservatives rely on different words and speech patterns to convey their messages. Pay attention to the rhetoric you hear amongst elected officials and candidates on the campaign trail. Much of their ideological beliefs will be exposed through simple use of linguistic metaphors.

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