Thursday, October 28, 2004

Environmentalists Losing the War of Words, Says Berkeley Linguist

In his new book Don't Think of an Elephant, University of California at Berkeley professor George Lakoff shows how people think in terms of frames and metaphors, which guide their thinking on issues.

One example is talking about tax cuts. Conservatives talk about "tax relief" instead of "tax cuts," reinforcing the idea that heroic conservatives are rescuing people from the affliction of taxes.

Another example came in the State of the Union speech last January, when President Bush said, "We do not need a permission slip to defend America." The language suggests an underage America asking permission of an adult teacher to leave the room. Another example: how conservatives shifted the language from "estate taxes" to "death taxes."


[Republican pollster Frank] Luntz urges his readers to use words like "clean," "safe," and "healthy," even when talking about logging forests or polluting the air by burning coal. Luntz's influence can be seen in such Orwellian program names as the administration's "Healthy Forests Initiative" and "Clear Skies Initiative."

A now-infamous Luntz memo obtained by an environmental group serves as a primer for conservatives when talking about the environment. In the memo, Luntz urges conservatives to say "climate change" instead of "global warming," because "while global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge."

The Luntz memo also urges conservatives to call themselves "conservationists" instead of "environmentalists," because "conservationist" conveys a "moderate, reasoned, common sense position between replenishing the earth's natural resources and the human need to make use of those resources."


At 12:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The term "convservationist" may have a positive connotation, but it only conveys a "moderate, reasoned position" when contrasted against another term - in this case "environmentalist." The left has, on the whole, given the extreme fringe - both violent (such as the ELF terrorists) and non-violent ("the sky is falling", save the snail darter at all costs, etc.) - a free ride and the right has been able to thus communicate that the term environmentalist is sometimes not a "moderate, reasoned position." Recall the success of BC's "Sister Soulijah" critique in co-opting moderate Republicans. Does the right have extreme elements? Yep, but as someone once wrote contrasting the "religious right" to "environmentalists", my country government to date hasn't forced me to accept a Bible or Koran, but it sure forced recycling bins down my throat."


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