I’ve spent a lot of time and space over the last decade thinking and writing about political language, propaganda, censorship, and banned and taboo words. Every time the language wars begin heating up (illegal alien vs. undocumented worker), I find myself reverting to a set of first principles:
- What is the literal meaning of the questionable word or phrase?
- Does that word or phrase have any connotations, that is, associations that are positive or negative?
- How does the word correspond to what is actually happening on the ground?
- What group (sometimes called a “discourse community”) favors one locution over another, and why?
- Is the word or phrase “loaded”? How far does it steer us from neutral?
- Does the word or phrase help me see, or does it prevent me from seeing?