Forced language – Colorado’s latest political weapon | SLOAN | Notice


Kelly Sloan

Many years ago, 380 to be exact, John Milton recounted in his polemical speech to the English Parliament “Areopagitica”, widely considered the first treatise on freedom of speech and the press ever written, of his visit to a Galileo aging, languishing under the orders of the House. arrest by the Inquisition “for having thought in astronomy differently from what the Franciscan and Dominican grantors thought.” No one serving in the Colorado General Assembly (at the time of this writing) is under house arrest or any other type of arrest for contrary thinking, but revealing “banned words” and being put to death later speakers at the well for their use recalled the passage and much of the rest of Milton’s polemic.

Much has been made, and rightly so, of the list of “banned words” distributed to Republican lawmakers ahead of debates on certain controversial issues, notably those concerning immigration and transgender policy.

I admit that I had to look up the definition of several terms related to transgender debates (like “deadnaming”), but the words quarantined in the immigration debate – notably “illegal immigrant” – attracted attention. ‘attention.

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This seems to me to be a direct error on the part of the majority. Political utility aside, this calls for examining the question of the use of language – more specifically, the use, abuse and restriction of language and speech – as a political weapon.

It is helpful to first recognize certain words and thoughts should be discouraged. Of course, no right is absolute; The First Amendment does not protect someone who shouts “fire” in a crowded theater, as the most common aphorism goes. Likewise, we rightly have long-standing cultural and legal prohibitions against speech that is, for example, racist or that calls for the violent overthrow of the government. Much of the “thinking” on college campuses that drives unbelievers who set up illegal encampments and terrorize Jewish students should be discouraged among responsible college leaders. We remember the debates around the National Education Association’s subsidizing of pornography and Tipper Gore’s crusade against explicit rock lyrics in the 1990s.

Should we demand a higher level of citizenship in our public institutions? Yes. And there are taboos against certain types of speech that should be maintained. But anything can be abused, and there comes a time when the taboos themselves can be carried to such an excess that they prevent the investigation of important questions.

There is an irony in this: it is traditionally liberals whose latitudinarian definitions of “tolerance” have sparked laments about “censorship” when applied to pornography and the like. Paradoxically, it is the liberals who brought us “political correctness” and insist on the torture of the English language for political ends.

Some of the excessive nonsense of political correctness did not survive long; I remember, for example, being confronted at university with freshmen who described themselves as “freshmen” and with some of my classmates who insisted on being referred to as ” women “. But much of what was once considered a merely amusing, if dreadful, affectation has become rigorously.

What this all amounts to is an attack on the precision of the English language. For example, “Illegal alien” is a phrase that describes something very specific: a person from another place (an “alien”) who entered that place in a manner other than that prescribed by law ( “illegally”). “Illegal immigrant” accurately describes someone who comes to this country with the intention of living there (“immigrate”), but again in a manner outside the law. For the record, I am both a legal alien and a legal immigrant. The terms are precise and demonstrate the precision of the English language, precision beneficial to understanding. None of the expressions proposed as alternatives, such as “undocumented immigrant” or the even more nebulous “newcomer”, adequately reflects the intended meaning.

Of course, this isn’t just about the State House. Some members of the justice reform movement, for example, are pushing to replace the term “sex offender” with “persons who have committed sex crimes.” From there, the mind despairs in contemplation.

This is really just an extension of the not-so-gradual degradation of language in general. The rules are flouted to the point that language becomes an obstacle to understanding. If I read another official statement in an official newspaper where the speaker is quoted as saying “I will” instead of “I will”, I will vomit.

Maybe this is just another one of my lawn columns. GOOD. But I will bring it back by ending with the quote from Euripides with which Milton begins his famous treatise:

It is true freedom when men born free

Having to inform the public can express themselves freely,

He who can and will deserves praise,

He who cannot and does not want to can remain silent;

What is more just in a State than that?

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver.