A Language Most Foul



Based on the title of this post, what do you think that it's about? More specifically, what possible associations could you or any others make?


From the period of time in which we have had the ability to establish likes and dislikes, we have been able to make associations, and language only amplifies this ability. Almost as soon as associations are made between one thing and another, we make further connections that might not exist.


Ali Almossawi warns against the types of pitfalls that this language creates, or rather, the types of pitfalls that readers might fall into if they allow biased broad associations to form the basis for possibly untrue determinations.


Multiple murder mysteries can illustrate the gravity of such a pitfall. Imagine a given murder of an unlikeable businessman who recently had an argument with the partner he went into business with. There were rumors of embezzlement by that partner perpetuated by the secretary. Meanwhile, the businessman's wife (who neither the partner nor the secretary likes) was having an affair with an important figure in a rival company. The businessman is murdered that night, and the murder is staged as self-inflicted, enough that the investigating officer (who likes a neat and clean conclusion to their cases) doesn't hesitate to mark it down as that.


As a viewer of this mystery, and possibly several others besides, we would be on the side of the clever and resourceful friend of the family who has previously helped the police solve many murders that have been staged thusly. Were it not for this family friend, the case would have been prematurely shut and the ever-ungrateful wife might have even been framed. No one may have guessed that a recently hired and seemingly devoted intern might have had a long-standing grudge against the businessman, a grudge strong enough to have done the deed. Besides, who would have believed it was the quiet young anxious intern? He's framed as endearing and has such an honest face.


If the associations made by the investigating officer stood, the criminal would have been allowed to go free. If the biases ("criminals") are allowed to run free and shape what we perceive as fact, we might not form a full picture of the situations that are important to us and the world we live in.


Almossawi explains several different types of associations pitfalls in a very well-thought out and engaging manner. Normally, I dissuade writers from adding too many examples to their writing as it can cloud what they are saying. While a little extra explanation and analysis so as to better understand the definitions being worked with doesn't hurt, that would be too academic for Almossawi's goals as I see them. A style that wouldn't normally work for a more informative piece works for this one because of the style and presentation.


In this chapter, he covers concepts such as "guilt by association," which many people understand as harmful, but he asserts effectively that guilt by association can be created without being easily discovered as such.


He gives the example, "Prosecutors recently disclosed--more than 10 years after the incident--that the lead...investigator may have had ties to insurgent groups himself" (Almossawi, 2021).


He highlights "insurgent groups" as it is vague and does not specify the type of insurgent groups, but the language "misdirection" as he puts it can lead readers to believe things about the investigator that could distract from the facts and evidence of a given case. None of the facts or evidence are a part of the headline, nor should it be, so I don't think that's fair if it's intended as a criticism.


While this could be perceived as criticism, I again highlight that this is a book for readers. If this were a book aimed at writers, I'd be more inclined to buy it as critique. I see it as more of a warning, but if this is the case, I don't think that it would do the style a disservice to briefly expand on it for guidance. I could see that decision affecting pacing if done improperly.


Other tools covered are metaphors and analogies, loaded labels, and hyperbole. I found all three very interesting, but the loaded labels were (to me) the most impactful of these sections.


One part of this section reads, "Associating dangerous diseases with certain geographic locations or populations can imply that the diseases are inherent in those locations or populations. MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) is a recent example" (Almossawi, 2021).


More simply, because of what MERS stands for, people form unfair associations between the disease and people who happen to be living in Middle Eastern countries. It's an incredibly timely example and does well to illustrate the connection between scientists, medical professionals, and those that make the language of both accessible.


Additionally, and this is one that a lot of people don't think of, is the use of "urban" and "suburban" as signifiers in politics.


The example given is, "I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low-income housing built in your neighborhood" (Almossawi, 2021).


It was as infuriating to type out as it probably was to write it. The word, "suburban," is often used in political rhetoric to exclude minorities, and the usage often holds racist tones. Most importantly, it's disguised and easy enough to deny.


It can be difficult to tell who a politician's language will be affecting unless we understand signifiers like these. Almossawi's expectations don't seem to lie in a thorough in-depth academic analysis of the language in every news broadcast or other forms of paranoia, but by all accounts, it is essential that we become more effective readers of our own contexts.

 

Thank you to everyone who has given me feedback on Purposeful Prose thus far, particularly those who suggested that I amp up the "review" aspect of these articles. Please let me know if this is a preferable balance of information.


I've received other suggestions recently to review texts that are less effective and suggest improvements, and I might eventually do that if I have something effective to contribute to the conversation. While there are a lot of writers who can create excellent substantive reviews of works like this, I find that my own style doesn't flourish as easily in the same dynamic. However, I am learning how to adapt in these circumstances from my wonderful friends and mentors!


This was an amazing chapter of An Illustrated Book of Loaded Language and I've been learning so much and have been scrutinizing much more. If you are interested in following along with this conversation, I do recommend getting a copy of the book. If you do, I hope that you will support your local bookstores, but if this is less accessible to you, I recommend bookshop.org. All proceeds from works bought at bookshop.org go directly to support local independent bookstores. I'm not sponsored, I'm just a fan of the cause.


If you would like to participate in my forum or interact with my posts, you can become a Purposeful Prose Member. It doesn't cost you anything, and you get notified first when I post!


As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


Sources:


Almossawi, A., & Giraldo, A. (2021). An Illustrated Book of Loaded Language: Learn to Hear What’s Left Unsaid (Bad Arguments). The Experiment.



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