The power which control over language gives to channel thoughts and direct actions was most famously set out in George Orwell’s 1984. It’s a recurring theme of the battle for equality too. It can be trivialised into superficial renamings that bring little other than embarrassment.
More mundanely, the choice of shared language is often an insight into how an organisation operates and changing it can also be a route to changing how the organisation operates.
Consider the use by Liberal Democrats of “campaigning” as the default term to describe what happens on doorsteps, through letterboxes and in social media timelines. Apply the word “campaigning” to a person and it’s meant as a compliment. It suggests something grand, a positive attempt to improve the world in some way.
Yet a more accurate term to describe much of what passes as campaigning in the Liberal Democrats is “electioneering” – where the objective is simply the accumulation of political support ready to be turned into votes at election time. A worthy objective for a political party, yes, but also a much narrower activity than campaigning. Using campaigning to describe electioneering disguises what else could, and should, be happening.
Likewise the use of “bar chart” as if it’s an end in itself rather than a means to an end. Bar charts are powerful motivators of tactical voting, which is an important part of how you put together a winning electoral coalition. But they contain no free-standing mystical power. They are a powerful way to illustrate one part of a tactical voting message, not a substitute for the whole.
When you stop talking about putting bar charts on leaflets and start talking about putting tactical voting messages on leaflets, you’re freed up from thinking they’re the only route even needed.
It’s time we changed the way we used our words. What other words would you add to this list?