Sadly, the 40-year campaign by conservatives to take over the political dialogue (and the political system itself) has been a success. Right-wing messaging is everywhere and has become the vernacular. But those of us on the left—and in the middle, too, come to think of it—must not give up. Language counts. We need to try harder to—as my pre-school teachers often said—use our words to convey what we mean. And even though we may have heard all of this before, (we’ve all read George Lakoff, right?) it’s worth reminding ourselves to use our own talking points, rather than mindlessly adopting the language of the right.
Addicting Information offers this helpful compilation of words and phrases to avoid, and ways to recast the dialogue:
(1). Big Business: (Also referred to as: Corporate America; Multinationals; Corporate Interests) When we use any of these words, we automatically sound pie-in-the-sky liberal. People think, “what’s wrong with that?” After all, they’d like their own businesses to get “big” and have no negative associations with the words “corporate” or “multinational” — which actually sound kind of exciting and worldly. Instead, try: Unelected Government. This puts them in their proper context as unelected entities with unprecedented powers, whose actions have immense impact on our lives, and which we are powerless to hold accountable.
(2). Entitlements: I keep hearing reporters from National Public Radio and other liberal news outlets use the word “entitlements” and it makes me froth at the mouth. They’re not “entitlements” — which sounds like something a bunch of spoiled, lazy, undeserving people irrationally think they should get for nothing. Instead, try: Earned Benefits. This term not only sounds better for the progressive cause, it’s also more accurate. Programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment are all forms of insurance that we pay into all of our working lives — via a percentage of our income — and then collect from when the time comes.
(3). Free Market Capitalism: (Also referred to as: Capitalism, Free Markets, and Supply-Side Economics) Like “Fascism” and “Communism,” “Free Market Capitalism” is a 20th-century utopian ideal that has amply been proven an unworkable failure, and damaging to society. Instead, try: Socialized Risk, Privatized Profits. This best describes the dramatically failed experiment in unfettered capitalism, as practiced in the late 20th century and early aughts.
(4). Government Spending: (Also referred to as: Taxes, Burden, and Inconvenient) Conservatives talk about “government spending” like it’s this awful thing, but the fact is, communities across America benefit from U.S. tax dollars, especially supposedly anti-government red states, which receive way more federal tax money than they contribute. Instead, try: Investing in America. Because, that’s what our federal tax dollars do. They invest in education and infrastructure that wouldn’t prove profitable for businesses, but which still benefit society in the long-run.
(5) Gay Marriage/Same Sex Marriage: While these phrases are technically accurate, they play into the conservative notion that marriage between two men or two women is somehow different and inferior than a “real” marriage between a man and a woman. Instead, try: Marriage Equality.
(6). Gun Control: Yikes! That sounds like you want to control people, and all those “freedom loving” folks who want to bully gays and people of color into staying in their place will use that word against you. Instead, try: Gun Safety. It sounds so nice, non-coercive, and reasonable … plus, it’s true. Most of us aren’t against guns, we just want them used safely. Or, for some added punch, try: Gun Violence Prevention.
(7). Homophobic: People who oppose equal rights for gays, lesbians, and gender atypical individuals are not “afraid,” as the “phobic” suffix implies. They are mean, bigoted @ssholes. Instead, try: Anti-Gay.
(8). Illegal Aliens: It’s easy to support draconian laws against people we refer to by such a scary and impersonal term as “illegal aliens.” It’s way harder to act against our neighbors, friends, the families of our children’s classmates, or the nice lady who sells those plump, fragrant tamales on the corner. Plus … are they really “illegal?” If
Big Business… Ooops … I mean “Unelected Government” … didn’t want them here — for their easily-exploited, low-cost, skilled labor (yes, our neighbors from south of the border do offer specialized skills for which U.S. agribusiness refuses to fairly compensate) — they’d be gone. Instead, try: Undocumented Residents. Why not? They already do much of what we officially-recognized U.S. citizens do, plus they’re having more kids than Anglos are. Seems like immigration provides an ideal way for us to avoid the demographics crisis hitting Western Europe and Japan.
(9). Pro-Life: Ugh. They are NOT pro-life. Once a child takes its first breath, these supposed conservative “pro-lifers” couldn’t care less about the quality of life for the child or mother. Let’s call them by their true name for once. Instead, try: Anti-Choice. Because, that’s what they really are about. They don’t care about “life.” They only seek to deny choices to women. Not just the choice of whether or not to have a child, but whether a woman can — like a man — embrace her full sexuality without having to worry about pregnancy, and whether she can make related choices about her body, her career, and when to have children, as men always have.
(10). Right-To-Work: Who came up with the phrase “right-to-work” ANYway? It’s total B.S. and doesn’t give you the right to do anything, unless you want to reject unions and earn less money than you would in a pro-union shop. In “right-to-work” states, non-union workers in union shops can decline paying union dues. Which sounds fair, but is not, because union shops pay better wages to their employees, and hence should receive dues accordingly. Instead, try: Anti-Union: It’s far more accurate, and — as unions increasingly gain favor — will make conservatives look bad. Because “right-to-work” really does mean: Right to choose amongst sucky wages and benefits packages. Several readers have also suggested: Right-To-Fire (without just cause), and Right-To-Work-For-Less.
(11). The Environment: When people talk about “the environment,” they often sound annoyingly self-righteous, as if lecturing people with dubious hygiene practices. Unfortunately, you can’t count on people to make environmentally friendly choices — especially when people are struggling financially and these choices cost significantly more. Instead, try: Shared Resources. That makes way more sense. We may not care about some factory dumping crap into the ocean, but we dang-well care about our neighbors up the river not properly maintaining their septic tank.
(12). Welfare: When conservatives talk about “welfare,” they make it sound like this pit people wallow in forever, rather than a source of help that’s available when we need it – and that we pay for through our taxes. The majority of us need help at one time or another. Instead, try: Social Safety Net: When people think of a safety net, they’re more likely to think of a protection of last-resort, and one that they can instantly bounce out of like circus acrobats. And if we continue to grow the middle class — instead of cutting taxes for the rich and allowing companies to pay sub-living wages — perhaps the latter will be true again.