“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”
Words matter, and should not be abused, lest worse problems ensue. One of the most abused words today, and for the past several years, is “migrant.”
Migrants are people who roam the land as a way of life. The Bedouin tribes of Northern Africa had a migrant lifestyle, and some still do. Some farmworkers in the United States might accurately be described as migrants, as they roam from the vegetable fields of California’s Central Valley to the apple harvests of the Northwest, to earn an honest living.
Most of the refugees arriving at our southern border today, however, are not migrants. They are refugees or asylum-seekers:* emigrants from their homeland, immigrants to the United States. They do not want to roam forever as a way of life. They want to settle down someplace safe. To call them migrants — as even responsible news outlets such as The New York Times and Washington Post do — falsifies reality.
A 3-year-old girl from Honduras and her 5-year-old brother arrested with their mother in El Paso are not migrants. They are refugees.
Little children do not roam around looking for work, with or without their parents. They accompany parents who flee corrupt governments, gangs, violence, rape and other horrors.
To call little children, whom we are imprisoning by the thousands in the United States, “migrants,” is a revolting whitewash: an insult to the English language, to refugees and to reality.
Another insult to the language, and to human beings, is the term voting rights laws as used today, by the Times, the Post and lesser outlets, to describe the travesties being enacted by white-dominated Republican legislatures in Georgia, Texas, Florida and nationwide.
These are not voting rights laws; they are voter suppression laws. To characterize these insults to democracy as “voting rights” is to camouflage their true meaning, and intent, under a white sheet.
Another insult to language and to human beings, is the term cancel culture. This denotes, to the best of my understanding, an attack upon institutions that refuse to allow neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and other such white trash to speak — sometimes for enormous fees — at publicly funded institutions such as our universities. This bogus term already has become a cliché — a stupid and dishonest one.
First of all, institutions that refuse to allow instigators of violence to piggyback on their publicly funded spaces do not constitute a “culture.” Nor are they attempting to “cancel” anyone — whatever that may mean.
“Culture,” however it may be defined in good faith, embraces a far greater range of activities — arts, language, social behavior, religious beliefs, dress, cooking — than the people who claim they are being “canceled” represent, or try to represent.
When a university declines to offer space for a race-baiting minor celebrity to foment violence, it is not trying to “cancel” him. It’s telling him to take his bullshit down the street: Sell it to the Marines.
Replacement, as used today, is an allied word that is abused in pursuit of abusing people.
When the racists and neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Va., chanted “You will not replace us,” they were chanting nonsense. They were saying that to allow a naturalized U.S. citizen of color to live here — be she Mexican, Nigerian, Chinese — and even — gasp! to vote — would somehow “replace” a white person, or his vote.
Fox News’ vile Minister of Culture Tucker Carlson epitomized this perversion of and insult to the English language in a recent anti-immigration rant by saying: “Every time they import a new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter.”
Well, first of all, Democrats — Carlson’s “they” — do not “import” human beings. That would be human trafficking. The accurate term is not “import,” but “naturalize,” meaning to grant U.S. citizenship, which may follow, after a lengthy process, being granted refugee status.
And the last seven words in that rant — “I become disenfranchised as a current voter” — are simply bullshit.
To disenfranchise someone is to prevent him from voting. To allow people of color and naturalized immigrants to vote does not “disenfranchise” Carlson. He can vote. His constitutional protections do not allow him to refuse those protections to other citizens — no matter what they look like or where they came from.
All right. Enough. George Orwell laid out this argument in his essay “Politics and the English Language.”
I conclude with a plea to the Times, the Post, and to everyone: Examine the language you use.
Refugees and immigrants are not migrants: they are refugees and immigrants.
Republican legislatures are not enacting voting-rights laws: they are enacting voter-suppression laws.
Words matter. They can be abused. These days when Republicans abuse words, more often than not it is to inflict pain upon human beings, in the same manner as their “cultural” allies Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin do it.
War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. Stop the steal.
(* In legal parlance, a refugee is someone who has been granted refugee status before they enter the United States, usually by applying at a U.S. embassy or consulate. Asylum-seekers enter without refugee status, then apply for it, and almost always are refused. The controlling statute, the 1980 Refugee Act, allows them to do this. So long as they are seeking refugee status, they are here legally — they are not “illegal immigrants.” This technical distinction does not negate the fact that the lion’s share of asylum-seekers are refugees in the common sense of the word.)