Weaponizing language

What do the terms ‘politically correct’, ‘cancel culture’, ‘woke’, ‘death panels’ and ‘death tax’ have in common?

They are all terms that have neutral or positive meanings that right wingers have turned into terms of abuse.

‘Politically correct’ has a long history, originating as a sarcastic reference to orthodox opinions in intra-left debates that then morphed into meaning the avoidance of using terms that were offensive, mostly to marginalized groups. It meant being sensitive to others in our use of language. Weirdly, the right wingers have used it to defend the right of those who want to say offensive things, arguing that they are the victims of ‘political correctness’. When someone begins by saying, “I know that this is not politically correct but …”, you can be sure that they are going to say something that will make you cringe if not angry.

‘Cancel culture’ is something that does not really exist. It is an umbrella term that has been invented to defend those who have behaved badly by suggesting that they have been unfairly treated by being swept up in a vast movement that seeks to eliminate its enemies from the public sphere. Its vacuity can be seen when you disaggregate its use. Been reprimanded for abusive behavior? You are a victim of cancel culture. Called out or denied a speaking opportunity for using racist or sexist or LGBT-phobic language? You are a victim of cancel culture. Been fired from your job for just being a downright awful person? You are a victim of cancel culture. But listing those specific actions and repercussions would indicate that you did something wrong. By putting the blame on cancel culture, you can pretend that you did not do anything wrong but were the unjustified victim of a kind of mass hysteria.

“Woke’ is simply a term that indicates that one is aware of, and sensitive to, issues of current importance that deal with marginalized communities. But it has become used a a slur to suggest that one is merely posturing when one expresses support for such communities and their concerns.

‘Death panels’ and ‘death tax’ are golden oldies. The former is something that never existed but referred to the potential for committees to study how health care resources should be allocated, a common-sense step that is hardly controversial. The latter was the proposal for at least some taxes on large estates so that obscene amounts of wealth could not be transferred intact to heirs, thus perpetuating and increasing the wealth inequality in the country.

You have to hand it to right wing politicians and their allies in the media ecosphere. They are masters in weaponizing language to advance their political goals by making actual wrongdoers able to play the role of the victim.


  1. Who Cares says

    Experimental vaccines. Take the experimental from one thing, like testing if it is safe for kids, apply it to the entire vaccine. Then flip out that The Other is using them as guinea pigs.

  2. blf says

    (@1, Reconstructed cross-post from poopyhead’s current Infinite [Pandemic and Political Madness All the Time] Thread here at FtB.)

    A snippet from Jupiter doctor calls COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theories ‘baloney’:

    “If you think that the vaccine is experimental, well, come into the hospital, get COVID, come into the hospital, get sick and let me give you the protocol of medications that I give to my patients,” [infectious disease specialist at Jupiter Medical Center (West Palm Beach, Florida), Dr Leslie] Diaz said. “That’s experimental.”

  3. Holms says

    Being ‘cancelled’ very often means ‘someone criticised me on twitter’, the poor dear.

  4. says

    Labeling is a weak technique but sometimes it’s all some people have got. It’s not like they could argue toe-to-toe the merits of canceling this asshole or the other.

    I did a piece on why labeling fails and how to deflect it [stderr]

  5. says

    Who Cares@#1:
    Experimental vaccines.

    That’s all nihilism; they are just making mouth-noises with no real attempt to understand the rationale behind them. Because, if they did, they’d have to wonder why so many people tried “experimental therapies” like hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin. Why weren’t they speaking out against those? Oh, because they actually don’t give a shit if it’s experimental or not.

  6. mnb0 says

    ““Woke’ is simply a term that indicates that one is …..”
    You’re guilty of cultural appropriation, MS:


    And white progressives who use the term even more. They never had reason to “be a little careful when they go along through there — best stay woke, keep their eyes open.” Thanks to white privilege.

    “You have to hand it to right wing politicians and their allies in the media ecosphere.”
    You enormously underestimate white progressives. They often do exactly the same long before.

  7. Bruce says

    “Political Correctness” is another term for politeness in a political context. It seems now to be used mostly by people who would say: everyone treated my mother politely, and I feel offended by this.

  8. garnetstar says

    mnbo @6, I’ve never heard of, or read of, a single white person who referred to themselves as woke. Ever. You’re buying into the same prejudiced slant as the right wing, in ascribing that to evil “white progressives”.

    I liked LeVar Buton’s take when asked (by Meghan McCain!) about “cancel culture”: he said that he thought of it as “consequence culture”, as in, there have always been things that people said or did which had adverse consequences, but now that has been expanded to saying or doing things against people for whom there used to be no consequences in harming. Touché!

    Also, “virtue signalling”. Literally anything can be called that: you could do a mass murder and someone could say that you only did it to signal your worth to your peer group, rather than that you are sincerely consumed with sociopathic rage.

    I always wondered how the right could see into people’s souls and determine whether their motives were to signal their virtue, or if they were actually acting out of deeply-held ethical and moral beliefs?

  9. garnetstar says

    mnb0@6, also, please cite (many) examples of language that “white progressives” have “often” weaponized, “exactly the same”, and “long before”.

    Otherwise, there’s no reason to take your unsubstantiated hyperbole seriously. Stating something does not make it true, unless you’re Alex Jones.

    Like, did a “white progressive” hurt your puppy dog once, or what personal grievance is motivating you? Both-sides-ism? Pure contrarianism?

  10. beholder says

    I take issue with Mano’s claim that political correctness is about being sensitive to others in our use of language. That’s a common use of it, and one which I would agree became popular culture’s meaning of the term in recent years, but my notion of political correctness is that it’s a rhetorical device designed to garble terminology to the point where you are no longer communicating effectively, in order to appease a powerful political interest. Think “copspeak”. “Genocide” becomes “ethnic cleansing”, which sounds like a more innocuous cleaning product. Accurately saying who did what to whom in a deadly conflict becomes “tensions” and “clashes”, which removes agency and thus any appearance of stepping on a belligerent’s toes. Spooky regime change at the point of a gun becomes “spreading democracy”.

    Political correctness is a propaganda service, excusing the behavior of the most dangerous organizations in the world using the terminology they prefer. Yes, right-wingers redefined it in a very silly way to suit their own purposes, but I believe my definition highlights real political problems.

  11. dogfightwithdogma says

    I have begun challenging the use of these phrases, particularly among my fellow liberals, some of whom seem to have adopted the use of these terms as well.

  12. friedfish2718 says

    “Weaponizing language”
    So what.
    Weaponized language has always existed. Heard of the expression “rapier wit”? Enough said.
    It appears the bloggers of freethoughtblog are fed up being touché’d with inpunity by conservative verbal swordsmen.
    The Three Musqueteers would have voted for Trump!!!

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