Corruption of language pervasive

By Walter Williams: Syndicated columnist

President Bush, during his State of the Union address, said, “America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.”

I decided to check out “addiction” in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and found: “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.”

Yesteryear, before it became popular for emotions to guide one’s thinking, anyone suggesting the use of oil in large quantities amounted to an addiction would have been seen as a lunatic, but not today. Today, it’s seen as caring about the environment and conservation.

President Bush could have just as easily chided Americans for our egg addiction; we guzzle almost 72 billion eggs a year, exposing ourselves to chickens that might be harmful, not to mention high cholesterol.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not bashing the president for that kind of thinking; he has plenty of company. Several years ago, Dr. Mark Rosen of the Centers for Disease Control said that we have to “convince Americans that guns are, first and foremost, a public health menace.” His CDC colleague, Dr. Patrick O’Carroll, was quoted in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Feb. 3, 1989) as saying, “The way we’re going to do this (bring about gun control) is to systematically build a case that owning firearms causes death.”

If I weren’t so busy pushing back the frontiers of ignorance at George Mason University, I might take a trip to the CDC’s Atlanta headquarters and give their medical staff a lecture on Koch’s Postulates of Pathogenicity, a logical series of scientific steps medical practitioners use to prove that a microorganism is directly responsible for causing a particular disease.

I’d let them know that bullets and guns have no infectious properties. Not having been to medical school, I could be proven all wrong about this. In that case, I’d urge the CDC scientists to work on an inoculation for gun violence.

Speaking of not bashing the president, “bashing” is another stupidly used term. During a recent stint hosting the “Rush Limbaugh Show,” I commented that one component of America’s education problem was the quality of many, not all, teachers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2001), students who select education as their major have the third-lowest SAT scores of 18 majors listed. When education majors graduate and take the LSAT for admission to law school, or the GRE for admittance to graduate school, they score lower than any other major.

After the show, letters arrived accusing me of bashing teachers.

I checked out Merriam-Webster for “bashing.” The first meaning was “to strike violently.” I’ve never hit a teacher, so part of the second meaning must apply, namely, “to attack physically or verbally.” To equate a suggestion that we need higher academic competence in the teaching profession to verbally attacking, bashing, teachers reflects how far we’ve fallen in our thought processes.

Corruption of language is pervasive, much of it, methinks, for political purposes. When I was young, there were bums, vagabonds, tramps and hobos. Today, they’ve disappeared to be replaced by homeless people. Also, during my youth, we played cowboys and Indians; now it’s cowboys and Native Americans. People used to be categorized by sex; now it’s gender.

Among other things, that means there are gender, rather than sex, reassignment operations because, given the state of technology, we haven’t learned how to change chromosomes, hence, sex change operations are impossible. Gender, however, is a grammatical term: “the classification by which nouns and pronouns (and often accompanying modifiers) are grouped or inflected.”

John Milton predicted, “When language in common use in any country becomes irregular and depraved, it is followed by their ruin and degradation.”

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He writes for Creators Syndicate and may be contacted at: wwilliam@gmu.edu