Verbal Anomalies and Hyperbole Confound Comprehension and Basic Literacy

Column by Harry Goslin.

Exclusive to STR

Recently I saw “Jurassic World.” The special effects were great. Humor was prevalent throughout to lighten the story somewhat, what with dinosaurs running around chomping people.

At one point an announcement over the park’s PA system advised park attendees to seek shelter because of a “containment anomaly.” Many people looked around in confusion and hesitated somewhat before they panicked.

Had the warning said, “Ladies and gentleman, there has been a breach of the ‘bird cage’ and dozens of flying, carnivorous dinosaurs are moving in your direction. Please seek immediate shelter,” there would have been immediate pandemonium. Because the warning was cryptic and confusing, the panic was slightly delayed.

People nowadays are quick to exaggerate or deceive to describe events and get attention. When it comes to hyperbole and deception, no one is better than government. But the propensity to mislead has permeated all levels of discourse and mass communication, making it ever more difficult for the average person to understand information.

New Jersey governor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie got a taste of words being blown out of proportion when, responding to an interviewer’s question, he said teachers’ unions were “bullies” that deserved a “punch in the face” because they contaminate the political process and don’t really contribute anything to the teaching of children.

Apparently there are no English teachers in the organizational structure of the American Federation of Teachers. The union responded with a barrage of hyperbole that went from nonsense to absolutely ridiculous. The union released a statement accusing Christie of “creating a culture of violence and intimidation that directly affects hard-working educators across America.” The AFT also missed how Christie personified the union, thus making it, and not teachers, the target of his “violence.”

Randi Weingarten, the union’s president, stretched the lunacy further, implying that since most teachers are women “seeking to help children meet their potential and achieve their dreams,” Christie was threatening violence against women and children. Whatever good teachers might do for kids of all ages has absolutely nothing to do with membership in a union or even the existence of unions.

The irrational screeds in the news and social media over Cecil the Lion offer another example of how people just don’t realize how stupid they sound when they over-exaggerate. Maybe that’s the goal. What’s more disconcerting is that it appears to be working because so many delusional people are quick to jump on the express train to Nutsville and add their voice to the crackpot dialogue.

Some emotionally-unhinged Americans spend too much time testing the elasticity of the small veins in the foreheads, “arguing” with people on the Internet and traveling across country to harass the guy identified as the hunter who “murdered” poor, lovable Cecil. That accusation has been all over social media. One whack-job even stood outside the man’s place of business and shouted “murderer” through a megaphone.

Unless the “murderer” accusation yields proof of Cecil reading a book or playing the piano instead of lounging in the grass, eating, yawning or taking care of business with the lionesses in his pride, accusing the hunter of murder is beyond insane. The fact that Cecil had a cute, folksy name and was a tourist attraction for rich Westerners to view from a safe distance doesn’t accord him human status.

In a New York Times editorial, Goodwell Nzou, a Zimbabwean studying at Wake Forest University, tells a boyhood story about a lion that terrorized his village for months and how it “sucked the life out of the village.” When the lion was finally killed, no one in the village mourned, they “danced and sang,” celebrating the “vanquishing of the fearsome beast.” In Zimbabwe, says Nzou, lions are not “granted an affectionate nickname. They are objects of terror.”

And then there’s that word “terror.” The aforementioned whack-job that shouted “murderer” through a megaphone also shouted “terrorist” to an empty business establishment. It’s bad enough when the government’s Terrorism Tourette’s causes its minions to overuse that word; when ordinary Americans start parroting the government, it makes “terrorist” calls surreal.

When a crazed gunman shot and killed five military personnel at two recruiting stations a few months ago, some in the political class screeched the predictable “terrorism.” It’s simply been too easy for government to use that word to incite indignation in the state-loving media and unfounded fear among the American people. Again, maybe that’s the intent.

Presidents Bush and Obama have cultivated belief in the righteousness of waging war against terrorism, with Planet Earth as the battlefield. That canard has convinced enough people in and out of government that if the United States bombs, occupies or kills anywhere in the world, it is justified self-defense.

Actual terrorism is directed against “soft” targets like civilians and civilian infrastructure, to invoke “terror” among the population as a way to pressure a government to change its leadership, philosophy, practices, etc. That’s exactly what the U.S. government does to weak countries all over the world, but no one calls that terrorism.

This attack cannot be “terrorism.” By the government’s definition of terrorism, attacks on a government and its servants waging war against an enemy called “terror” are legitimate, because that’s what combatants do in war. They kill each other’s personnel.

The U.S. defined the rules. Retaliation eventually happens and is part of war. It doesn’t matter that the attack happened on U.S. soil. U.S. government attacks against agents serving “terror” have been regular occurrences for a dozen years now. Count on politicians to exaggerate this “threat” to yoke people’s emotions.

Given the power of mass and social media to get people acting emotionally and with little thought to their words and actions, it’s a pretty good bet that the people who exaggerate and deceive will dominate how events are interpreted well into the future.

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Harry Goslin's picture
Columns on STR: 40

Harry Goslin lives in eastern Arizona. 


Paul's picture

Good one Harry. Government could not exist without lies and euphemism and general abuse of the language.