The corruption of political language

Sunday 29 October, 10:0011:30, Frobisher Auditorium 2Crisis of Political Language

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As the political sphere evolves, its political lexicon needs constant re-evaluation. Words such as ‘Brexit’, ‘Leaver’ and ‘Remainer’ regularly appear in today’s newspapers but would have seemed foreign five years ago. At the same time, the political language of the past is constantly being unearthed. Whether it be the rise of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen, the current prominence of right-wing politicians across the globe has been met with shrieks decrying the return of Hitler.

And with the emergence of a new vocabulary, existing terms are often rendered with new meaning. As such, those who describe themselves as ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’ in 2017 often have little in common with those who used the descriptor 50 years ago. To make matters more confusing, new linguistic rules are constantly being invented. With more attention being paid to transgenderism, terms such as ‘ze’ and ‘cis’ have been introduced into everyday language. The British Medical Association recently sent its employees A Guide to Effective Communication: Inclusive Language in the Workplace, which instructs staff that they should no longer refer to pregnant women as ‘expectant mothers’ but as ‘pregnant people’.

Similar to Orwell’s preoccupation that ‘political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable’, many claim that today’s political language is detrimental to our democracy. Following the vote to leave the European Union last year, riled critics claimed that Leave voters were hoodwinked by untruths. Fact-checking has now become a full-time occupation and we are constantly reminded not to believe everything we hear or read.
So, are we using a new political language? Is political speech only being used, as Orwell wrote, as a ‘defence of the indefensible’or does its new form have merit? Does the recent development of language represent an inclination to encourage discourse or help to shut it down? Should we go back to basics, and pin down with more precision, what we mean by such contested terms as liberalism, fascism, radicalism? Is political language a benefit to politics itself? And if not, how can it be fixed?