December 28th, 2017

Typically when I post notes from My Electronic Chapbook, I do so in order. I finished transcribing my notes to Harold Evans’ Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters this afternoon and I was so stuck by my final note, I felt compelled to not only share the note immediately, but also to expand note to provide context.

As Evans, former editor of The Sunday Times and The Times of London, notes, near the end of the presidency of Donald Duckspeak Trump, these paragraphs are spot on.

The misuse of credit stains print, broadcasting and the web. On 23 December 2015, in Afghanistan, a motorbike suicide killed ten U.S. soldiers, and CNN credited it to the Taliban. Boko Haram was credited with with the seizure of 276 girls in Chibok, Borno. The credits in broadcasting, print and website headlines make it clear one part of humanity just does not think about the meaning of words. For five hundred years, since the English first adopted the word from the French, credit has meant honor.

Terrorists have no hesitation in claiming credit. ISIS did the day after the Paris Killings. The aim is to ratchet up anxiety and panic. But why does the media act as ventriloquist? The Wall Street Journal, generally scrupulous with words, wrote in an editorial on 30 June 2016, that the Islamic State hasn’t taken credit at this writing for killing forty-one and injuring more than two hundred at Turkey’s Ataturk Airport. Nouns and verbs that chime with universal values are accessible, words such as responsibility, blame, guilt, admit, accept—and the strong verb perpetrate, “to execute or commit a crime or evil deed.” It is more than carry out, as if the bad guys were delivering pizza.

The media does not intend to equate murder and honor. But it does. It is erratically careless, too, with execution, embellishing a desert decapitation with the word for the infliction of capital punishment in observance of a judicial sentence. I think claim credit just pops into mind as a reflex coupling, the way fires rage, plots thicken, fire engines race.

Orwell would classify it as duckspeak, to quack without thinking, a word in the language of Newspeak. Orwell, in his 1948 description of the principles of Newspeak, wrote:

Ultimately, it was hoped to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centers at all.

Oldspeak—and literature and history—would gradually be supplanted by Newspeak, and obliterated by 2050. Facebook’s mass dissemination of fake news in the 2016 presidential election suggests that we are ahead of schedule. p. 183

From Do I make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters by Harold Evans


Found in my electronic chapbook.

Writing well matters.

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