The power of misnomers

Remember “plug and play”? An obsolete term almost upon its introduction, it’s joined a host of other falsities of modern civilization. I put “plug and play” to the test a month ago when my wife and I bought a new HP all-in-one printer. I’m a follow-the-directions-kinda-guy, but it made no difference; after screwing around with the new printer for a couple of hours, I was no closer to getting it synced with my desktop machine than when I hefted it out of its box. A visit from Kevin, my computer consultant, and a check to him for $75 solved the “plug and play” problem.

Another idea that never came to fruition is “the paperless society.” I’m sure you all remember this one, the forecast that digital technology would quickly replace ink printed on paper. I don’t know about you, but we use more paper in our house than ever. Rather than replacing paper, digital technology has spurred an avalanche of printing. It’s now so easy to hit the “print” button, assuming your printer can communicate with your devices, that we’re using a laptop, desktop, smart phone and tablet to do it. How about you?

And consider “the Information Age.” How’s that working out? Given the rise of the Internet, Fox News, Twitter, and Facebook, it’s more appropriately “the Disinformation Age.” News, once reliable if often boring, is now suspect, just another form of entertainment and/or completely false. The rise of the smart phone has been accompanied by the rise of the stupid public.

Speaking of stupid, we can’t forget “evidence-based decision-making.” From bogus cures for Covid to relying on the so-called “historical facts” about terminating pregnancy, major policy is being made on the basis of religious doctrine not evidence. This, along with “Constitutional originalism” in evaluating legislation, are the latest set of misnomers, or what we more colloquially call “crazy bullshit.” They join “equality under the law” in the annals of deceptive language.

One might write off such deceptions as simple foolishness or the excesses of marketing but for the fact that the art of thought manipulation has a long and well-documented history. Lies, dissemblance, and deceit are now clinically described as “disinformation,” an indication of how thoroughly we’ve been trained by masters of propaganda. Author Jacques Elull detailed how this all works in his aptly titled book, Propaganda. Explaining the ways in which propaganda works within a closed group, like Proud Boys for example, Elull explains: “Thus we see before our eyes how a world of closed minds establishes itself, a world in which everybody talks to himself, everybody constantly views his own certainty about himself and the wrongs done him by the Others – a world in which nobody listens to anybody else.”

Writer George Orwell built his reputation on exploring the use of language for manipulation. In both novels, Animal Farm and 1984, the impoverishment of language is shown to be essential in the ascent and operation of tyranny. From the paradox of “some animals are more equal than others” to the explication of “newspeak,” the authoritarian state’s program of elimination and reduction of vocabulary, he demonstrates the essential role of misnomers in the control of people: the slogan “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength” is carved on the walls of the Ministry of Truth. Think “Fair and Balanced” FOX News.

One thought on “The power of misnomers

  1. I love my HP All-in-One — and, yes — it demands interactions that are sometimes confusion (especially after an upgrade) — but, here’s the thing — it is SO RELIABLE!

    Love your thoughts on closed-mindedness — and appreciate your sharing them here!

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