When I was in elementary school, we were given a list of “dead words.” These were words that had been so overused that they had lost their meaning or impact, and we were told to use them as little as possible in our writing.
In that spirit, here is a short list of political terms that have become useless by provoking knee-jerk reactions that prevent any rational discussion:
- Somehow a lot of people over on the right have decided that liberal = communist. It’s gotten to the point that even liberals don’t like to use the word anymore.
- I don’t know what conservatives usually call the types that want to turn America into a theocracy or oligarchy, but one whiff of this phrase and they assume you’re a rabid left-wing nutjob. (I’ve seen this happen on articles about something as unrelated as the origins of Linux.)
- Special-Interest Groups
- Everyone loves to accuse their opponents of being beholden to special interest groups. The problem is, any group with a political agenda is a special interest group. That includes, for example, both the logging industry and the Sierra Club.
- Some people immediately think of “tree-hugging hippies” instead of an effort to keep the world around us livable. I’ve actually heard people claim that environmentalism is nothing more than a modern interpretation of pagan earth-worship.
- Intellectual Property
- Are you talking about patents, copyrights, or trademarks? They’re all different concepts, and subject to different laws. Just say what you mean, don’t confuse the issue.
- I’ve heard this term a lot from conservatives discounting the views of liberals in academia and the entertainment industry. Often, it’s used by conservatives in academia and the entertainment industry.
- Unfortunately, there are a lot of vocal nutjobs who give Christianity a bad name. To some on the left, it’s become associated more with religious intolerance and inflexibility than with the actual religion. (Hmm, kind of like the word “Muslim.”)
- How often have you heard someone ask for a “more balanced” portrayal of some issue? Are they really looking for something that presents both sides of a controversy equally, or are they generally looking for something that presents their side more favorably?
- Comparisons to World War II
- OK, this is one I’m tired of hearing. It seems like WW2 has become the template for interpreting every war (or pending war) for the past 60 years, whether or not the situation is actually comparable. While you can certainly find similarities between 1930s Germany and pre-invasion Iraq, post-9/11 USA, your local mall security guards, ancient Sparta, or whatever society or organization you’re concerned about, invoking images of Nazis only distracts from the real issue. (For example: Is so-and-so a threat, and what can we justifiably do about it?) It’s nothing but Godwin’s Law in action in the real world.