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December 16, 2016 / Congau

Words of Abuse

Beware of the way words are used as a trap. When one word has a range of meanings, it may hurt to get entangled in it. It may stick to a person because of its weaker meaning, but still be associated with a stronger connotation.

The use of the word “anti-Semite” is an example of this. It is an absolutely dreadful word that immediately stirs up associations with a horrible chapter in human history. When someone is labeled an anti- Semite, the strings of connection is somehow drawn back to that horror and the person appears in a terrible light. Yet a weak meaning of the word may simply express a certain opposition to something related to Jews (for example the state of Israel). That may of course be bad enough, but it is nowhere near its worst association.

Compare this to other negative words related to ethnicity. Being anti-American or Francophobe does not have far-reaching connotations. It often signifies a rather innocent opposition to American or French policy and the label can easily be brushed off without appearing as a fundamentally bad person.

Words are just words and are supposed to refer to something in reality. Nothing is added to or subtracted from anything by giving it a certain name. But unfortunately words can make things appear to be what it is not and people are all too happy to trap others in a false appearance. I hope I haven’t stepped into a trap by writing this…

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