I have been writing a lot about the politically inspired perversion of language. The name “Orwell” crops up in any such discussion, as does the word “Newspeak,” that twisted mode of language that Orwell outlined in the appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four. The goal of Newspeak, Orwell said, was to replace standard English with a sharply diminished patois whose linguistic poverty was its prime political advantage. By reducing the suppleness of language, the elites who controlled society hoped also to reduce dissent — not only the activity of dissent, but also the thoughts and emotions that...
I have been writing a lot about the politically inspired perversion of language. The name “Orwell” crops up in any such discussion, as does the word “Newspeak,” that twisted mode of language that Orwell outlined in the appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four. The goal of Newspeak, Orwell said, was to replace standard English with a sharply diminished patois whose linguistic poverty was its prime political advantage. By reducing the suppleness of language, the elites who controlled society hoped also to reduce dissent — not only the activity of dissent, but also the thoughts and emotions that guided it.
This has been a perennial dream of budding totalitarians, from the French Revolution to the varieties of communist tyranny. In our own society, the disease began, as do so many species of spiritual sickness, in the university, but it has metastasized into the body politic, infecting primary and secondary education, the media, commerce and even government. The current name of this nightmare is “wokeness,” but a swamp by any name smells as bad.
You’ve seen how it works. The number of books off-limits in polite society because they contain unfashionable words or ideas would make a library. An international news agency instructs reporters to avoid the word “terrorist” because (and I quote) “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Along the same lines, government agencies command their workers to retire the divisive phrase “Islamic terrorism.” “Domestic terrorism,” however, is still okay, especially if it can be applied to white men.
All of this has been guyed, ridiculed and satirized. So far, the response has gratified the satirists and their friends but has done little to abate the flow of woke effluvia. Maybe, I have often thought, it hasn’t yet attained sufficient malignancy.
Hold the presses! The American Medical Association, together with the Association of American Medical Colleges, have just issued Advancing Health Equity: A Guide To Language, Narrative And Concepts. Is this the item of supreme self-infatuation that will begin the great awakening from wokeness? Maybe.
From first sentence to last, the aroma of scolding virtucratic entitlement is by turns noxiously cloying and comically rebarbative.
For the comedy, try on these opening words: “The field of equity, like all other scholarly domains . . .” You snorted, didn’t you? You know that “equity” — which is Newspeak for Marxoid attacks on private property and merit-based advancement — is not a “field,” much less a “scholarly field,” but a vapid epithet chosen because it conjures edifying moral associations.
No sooner have we stumbled over the “field of equity” than we’re clobbered with a “Land and Labor Acknowledgement.” The Association of American Medical Colleges’ headquarters is “located in Washington, DC, the traditional homelands of the Nacotchtank, Piscataway and Pamunkey people.” The headquarters of the AMA — the American Medical Association, for God’s sake — are “located in the Chicago area on taken ancestral lands of indigenous tribes, such as the Council of the Three Fires, composed of the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi Nations, as well as the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Menominee.”
It never stops. We must use capital-B “Black” when referring to black people but never capital-W “white.” “It is critical,” we are told, “to address all areas of marginalization and inequity due to sexism, class oppression, homophobia, xenophobia and ableism.” Whom have we left out?
What a gift Anthony Fauci’s weaponized Chinese virus has been to leftist busybodies of the world. Its broader effect, however, has been less happy. “The devastating toll of COVID-19 on communities who are minoritized [yes, really] and or [and/or?] historically marginalized, coupled with worldwide protests against racism and other systems that exclude, has brought many people and a wide spectrum of institutions into conversations about racial justice and health equity.” The Eighth Amendment forbids cruel and unusual punishment. The scribes at the AMA never got that memo.
At the center of this compact of rancid woke vocables are a number of tables listing deprecated words or locutions alongside their approved, “equity-centered” alternatives. Don’t say “illegal immigrant.” Say “undocumented immigrant,” because “illegal is a dehumanizing, derogatory term used to describe a person who resides in a country without proper documentation. No human being is illegal.” We can leave that ontological assertion to one side: plenty of human beings engage in illegal behavior, and that’s what we’re talking about here.
We’re not supposed to say “minority” anymore, but rather “historically marginalized or minoritized or BIPOC.” Don’t say “sex.” Say “sex assigned at birth.” Don’t say “slave.” Say “enslaved person.” Spartacus always did that, didn’t he? And I am sure the Islamic slavers in Africa are careful about their language right now, today.
The ultimate fatuousness comes over common names for common realities. Say goodbye to “white paper” and “whitelist,” as well as “blacklist” and “blackball.” These terms, we read, “indicate white privilege.” Blacklist, for example, “denotes people, places, and things that are viewed with suspicion or disapproval.”
You don’t say? Reality is disappointing. This surreal emission from two of the nation’s top medical organizations presents an advancing terminal condition. The prognosis for the patient is grim. Fortunately, contagion can be contained by laughter bolstered by doses of ridicule.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s December 2021 World edition.