The Abuse of Language in Political Manipulation
Updated: Sep 18, 2021
Words are weapons, and in the field of combat, it helps to conquer the crowd or defend an action. In a political context, language can get very vicious. Language is the most ancient persuasion device and the more we advance as a society, the more power we derive from it. There is a subtle manipulation of language and words constantly become unobtrusive weaponry. This abuse of words can move crowds and their opinions in any direction they wish to, it is indeed a powerful tool, ingrained in psychology. Political language consists largely of euphemism, question-begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness.
The substitution of words, to downplay atrocities in a political context, cause for there to be a severe lack in nuanced versions of the story. Moreover, the use of terms in order to dignify sordid issues in politics have glorified these in the eyes of the masses.
Political speeches, more often than not, communicate righteousness. Reiterating certain phrases helps make the ideas within the sound of the concept seem common to the audience. This repetition and emphasis will persuade the general public to easily accept the ideas and hence, the concepts that the politician is trying to induce. Manipulating the mental schema creates an ideology which the public willingly accepts it as their own.
Linguist Allan Metcalf in ‘Predicting New Words’ uses what he calls FUDGE, a mnemonic for the main factors necessary for a manipulative new term to thrive in language:
Frequency – The term should be used repeatedly
Unobtrusiveness – The term shouldn’t be too noticeably weird, so it’s easy to pick up
Diversity – The term should be used across different groups
Generating new forms and meanings – The term should be able to be used flexibly in different ways
Endurance – The concept the term refers to should be long-lasting
Essentially, the use of language in order to convince people is to expand their vote banks. To paint oneself in good light and establish dominance over their image in the eyes of the general public. Like advertising, the language in politics coaxes you into buying into their intentions.
The most powerful term associated with this concept is ‘Orwellian’ derived from George Orwell and his manner of writing. Since his book ‘1984’ is set in a totalitarian society, there is a misconception of the term being associated with authoritarian societies, this very thought process is what Orwell was attempting to warn us about. The restriction of language in a society, owing to the increasing ease of availability of information, leads to a massive drop in critical thinking. With readily available terminology and the constant use of it, there is a reduction in the understanding of the meaning. Additionally, there is a shift in the same. Words are clustered together and are put under an umbrella with no differentiation. People stop questioning their assumptions and accept the media consumed by them, blindly.
Democracies and dictatorships are both equally under threat by this very present phenomenon by the left and right alike. Anyone in a position of power will attempt to retain it, the use of language acts as a catalyst for enhancing the power they already have. It is unfortunate that other than critical thinking, and awareness, which is what politicians are trying to eradicate with the abuse of words, there is no solution to this predicament.
David, M. K. (n.d.). Language, Power and Manipulation: The Use of Rhetoric in Maintaining. FLT.
LANGUAGE POLITICS: HOW POLITICIANS USE WORDS TO SHAPE ELECTIONS. (n.d.).
Luu, C. (n.d.). The Linguistics of Mass Persuasion: How Politicians Make “Fetch” Happen (Part I). Retrieved from Jstor Daily : https://daily.jstor.org/the-linguistics-of-mass-persuasion-how-politicians-make-fetch-happen/
Orwell, G. (n.d.). POLITICS AND THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.