Opinion: The weaponization of words and its effect on society

Lauren Jessop

"Speak Truth"Photo byBrett JordanonUnsplash

The adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” might be true in the physical sense, but we all know they can certainly injure feelings. If you have not noticed it yet, they can and have been used, or “weaponized,” to influence culture and public opinion on issues.

This may come as no surprise to some of you. For others, it might be an awakening, and once you see it, you cannot, as they say, unsee it.

What we are seeing is the subtle, or sometimes not-so-subtle, swapping of words used intentionally by some to change the way society looks at an issue or group of individuals. When used often enough people will unconsciously add those words and phrases to their vocabulary.

A phenomenon called the Illusory Truth Effect is responsible for people believing “fake news” or politicians’ narratives, and it works with words and phrases as well. The concept, which has been proven in studies, is that people tend to perceive claims as truer if they have been exposed to them before, and repetition increases the odds.

Language naturally evolves as technological and societal changes occur; new terms are created to describe them, and those changes are passed down from generation to generation. Our colonial ancestors would probably be very confused if they heard us speaking today.

We are not talking about a natural evolution of the English language in this case; it is the purposeful changing of a word or phrase in an attempt to tip the scales in favor of, or even villainize, an individual or group of people for a particular purpose.

An example of softening a term in order to make it more acceptable to people is the Biden administration’s instructions to federal agencies not to use “illegal alien” and instead use “noncitizen” or “migrant” in its place. However, “alien” is still the terminology used in our immigration laws. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services includes the following definition of alien in its glossary: “Any person not a citizen or national of the United States” …and “may include a stateless person and is synonymous with ‘noncitizen’ and ‘foreign national.’”

So, illegal aliens are now undocumented immigrants or migrants, election integrity laws have become “voter suppression laws,” all semi-automatic weapons are being referred to by many as “assault weapons,” and a riot has become an “insurrection” – except those that were “mostly peaceful” during the summer of 2020. And on it goes...

It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s true or not. Depending on your news sources or your political leaning, if you aren’t paying attention, don’t question the usage, and you hear it often enough, you may gradually start using these terms.

Other less common examples, but still utilized by people with influence, include: “Mother” has been referred to as “birthing person” and “women” as “menstruating people.” And there are some who use the acronym “MAPS,” which stands for Minor-attracted people, in an effort to destigmatize pedophiles.

The goal of these manipulative tactics is to have us to believe certain things for various purposes, similar to techniques used by commercial advertising. Politicians and the corporate media have been spinning things for years, but their use of these techniques have gone into overdrive, to the point where it is no longer subtle.

Narratives are controlled and driven by language, and it is being used to pit us against each other and divide us. It’s up to us to be aware of it, put things through the logical reasoning test, and resist getting sucked into the vortex of groupthink.

Comments / 7

Published by

Lauren Jessop has a need for balance, a strong sense of fairness, and digs for facts before forming an opinion. Her love and respect for history are reflected in many of her writings.

Easton, PA

More from Lauren Jessop

Comments / 0