Friday, January 28, 2011

Landscape-changing terms

State-sponsored gambling has existed for a long time in Massachusetts and other states. It's called "The Lottery". However, extended use of gambling has been a real political football for years in this state. With taxes going higher and few revenue alternatives available, the topic of gambling is continually raised as a new revenue option.

The governor is opposed to gambling mostly because of ethical reasons. He is concerned, as are many others in the state, that if casinos were to be built in the state, the money would be coming from those who can least afford to lose it.

The pro-casino crowd--including leaders in the legislature--argue that people who gamble are already going out of state, so we would simply be keeping the revenue local. And that the state cannot stop gamblers from gambling anyway so why not capitalize on it.

In recent political discussions, I've noticed that the word "gambling" is slowly being replaced by "gaming" by the pro-casino crowd. I assume this is an attempt to change the anti-gambling crowd's negative reaction to what many consider an addiction. I react to this change in terms more in a George Carlin/English major sort of way.

A percentage of the population hates politically-correct phrasing--as witnessed in some viral emails on the subject that are often forwarded to me by conservative friends. Since the right always seems to be the side most upset by attempts to soften language, I find this subtle switch from "gambling" to "gaming" interesting. Why haven't I heard the left complain about the softening of a practice or term they are opposed to?

20 years ago, I started hearing the term "pro-choice" turned against the left as "pro-death." Only occasionally did I hear the term "pro-life" rephrased as "anti-choice" and used against the right.

The left is quick to change terms like "handicapped" to "challenged", and "Indian" to "Native American", yet it seems rare that they object or even recognize the opposite.

The metamorphosis of language is one of the reasons I pursued an English degree. One word can change so much in our collective reasoning and communication. The political spin doctors already know this and it's why some are so successful.

But I'm also interested in watching which groups use language as weapons and which groups use it to create civility. And, ultimately, I'm interested in who eventually wields enough influence to change it permanently.

1 comment:

  1. Nice piece Ms Deschenes... have you read Wendell Potter's book "Deadly Spin"? He portrays the PR community in an interesting light and he explains how certain corporations and/or consortiums of like-minded business/political groups intentionally work these charged words to their advantage... is most evil and a terrible use of psychology's basic research into how humans react to language...