That the major media have redefined words beyond their original meaning is not news, though it would be to them, if only they got it.

But it’s unusual to see them called out on it by other media professionals. Like this purist who not only identifies the buzzwords most often misused, but gives you a handy guide for how to read them in context.

George Orwell, he notes up front…

was particularly irritated with the way political words
were used “in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses
them has his own private definition.” Far too many political articles,
he wrote, consisted “largely of euphemisms, question begging, and sheer
cloudy vagueness.” Such usages were “deliberately intended to deceive.”

Scary, how much more relevant Orwell is today than even when he was around publishing his provocative works.

So, go down the list of most commonly used terms, and what they’re
intended to mean today. Like “activist”, “diversity”, “progressive”
(that’s a good one).

It’s interesting to contrast the use of “progressive”
with another label that has lately come into use — “right-wing” or
“extreme right-wing.” From context it is usually clear that the writer
has something in mind more than just people who object to liberal
policies; between the lines we can hear the marching feet of fascist
militias. Likewise, when you see the apparently neutral label
“conservative” applied to a person or a policy, you can be sure that
what is going to follow will not be complimentary.

Worse still, the word “conservative” is often used in ways that Edmund Burke would never recognize…

Which brings up the point that those who follow geopolitics know
that “liberal” means something very different in other countries than
it does in the US, and even within….say….Church affairs, something very
different today than it did before and during the Second Vatican
Council.

Words mean things.

The prospect that mainstream journalists will sharpen
their vocabulary and start calling things by their correct names is
highly unlikely…It is intimately related to the rapid decline of the
traditional media, a decline not yet concluded. Precision in language
is an expression of accuracy in thought — or, as Orwell put it, “the
slovenliness of our language makes it easier to have foolish thoughts.”
The emergence of an independent media on the Internet may help to
clarify meanings, or at least introduce a proper discussion of what
words really mean.

Thanks to the proliferation of social communications media today,
even the term ‘mainstream’ is losing its meaning. At least when applied
to what we not long ago referred to as ‘major media’.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....