Politicization of the language

“It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.”

— George Orwell

Is it torture or harsh interrogation tactics? National Public Radio ombudsman Alicia Shepard told MPR Midmorning host Kerri Miller she’ll have a piece on her online column later today because “NPR listeners are furious that we’re not calling a spade a spade.”

So the timing was perfect for today’s Midmorning hour on how our language has been politicized, and how a point of view creeps into the journalism.

At MPR, for example, pro-choice and pro-life and no-no’s. Instead, we use phrases such as legalized abortion. Of more recent vintage is the controversy over the use partial birth abortion. It is a virtually endless debate.

That said, here’s a list of the words or phrases that came up in this morning’s broadcast, either from the guests — Shepard and Karlyn Kohrs Campbell from the University of Minnesota — or callers. Add your own below.

Public plan vs. government plan

Death tax

Public option vs. government takeover


Disabled person vs. Person with disabilities

Enhanced interrogation technique

Fee vs. tax

Break news

Abortion doctor


Collateral damage

Regime vs. government

  • BJ

    Regime vs. government

    Interesting that war and the tools of war seemed to come up a lot in the hour.

    Have to say what I could listen to was very good.

  • JohnnyZoom

    Wasn’t it George Carlin who lamented about this happening? He traced the lineage from



    post traumatic stress disorder

    (I think I missed a couple of intermediates)

    He was decades ahead of his time.

  • Victor M. Macías-González

    What’s wrong with Latina/o ? It’s the preferred usage among educated Hispanics, especially those in the Midwest and on both coasts . . . Hispanics carries too heavy an influence on European heritage, and while it may be historically accurate (i.e., we’re the children of Spain’s empire) it does not necessarily find much appeal outside of the Southwest, where there was a longer, historical Spanish (and Mexican) presence.

  • Bob Collins

    The “Latino” point was made by a caller. She believes its use to describe American citizens suggested that they were immigrants.

  • sm

    “a point of view creeps into the journalism”…

    Every time I hear a new story with the term “unborn baby” instead of “fetus” I cringe.

    This is just one of the bad-tasting leftovers from the religious reich’s agenda.

  • bob

    disabled person and person with disabilities are both pejorative.

    If we’re talking about physical condition, what’s wrong with a term like physically challenged?

    For behavioral condition, what about a term like behaviorally challenged?

    As a longtime MPR member, I’m in the outraged camp about the failure of MPR/NPR to call torture torture. When the Red Cross, the U.N., Amnesty International, the Geneva Convention and most other civilized countries consider waterboarding torture, shame on MPR/NPR for copping out and using the Bush administration’s euphemism.

    Also, consider the question of “visual” and “audio” language.

    Recall that when the Bush admin. began its march to war, all of the major media, including NPR, were in lockstep. The use of flag-draped sets, martial music and other production elements made it look and sound like the media were state-controlled. No listener or viewer could come away from that atmosphere thinking that they were watching and hearing objective reporting. From my perspective, this cravenness was one of the absolute low points for the media in this country.

  • Bob Collins

    It’ll be interesting to see Shepard’s post on torture. You want me to set up a different post on it? Or should we just kick it around here when it’s out?

  • Dave

    How is Abortion Rights Advocate or Abortion Rights Opponent non politicized? An “Abortion Rights Advocate” on the flip side of this kind of terminology would be called an “Unborn Human Rights Opponent.” Folks on both sides of this issue consider themselves advocates of human rights.

    This label demonstrates a failure to recognize that rights are very much at the heart of this disagreement. The use of this term seems like an attempt to frame the discussion in favor of abortion as a natural right. That’s fine if that’s the opinion you want to convey. However, if you are truly trying to take a neutral stance, you fail.