Economy and precision in partisan language

People are to be trusted. They are innately capable and each has the potential for intelligence and wisdom. Of course, not everybody chooses to fulfill this potential, but I have a strong bias that says that that potential exists nevertheless.

Language is power. We’ve discovered rhetorical devices to exploit its power. Repetition of ideas and alliteration hammer words into our head. Metaphor and simile attempt to trick us into believing something strange is familiar.

It is interesting to know of these devices, but it is exploitive to use these devices in practice. Language should be dry, objective. In contructing sentences, paragraphs, statements and speeches we must separate the wheat from the chaff and only communicate function rather than form. To pretty up language or to use rhetorical devices that play to the emotions of the audience, is to commit sin against the unassuming (ignorant, victimized, lowly, etc) populace. Guard your speech, young man! Watch your metaphor and was that alliteration?

Is it cynical to use these devices (see here towards the bottom of the page)? How can it not be? People are stupid sheep that can’t be trusted to think for themselves. Right?

As a business man, lazy, I produce and market things. In doing so, I think about my audience (my customers), consider what ideas and words excite them, that will get them interested in my product. It’s common to use the ‘groups of three’ device. All the features of our product are described with three adjectives. I do this so I can exploit our customers (or potential customers) gullibility to the use of such cynical language… Or wait. No, I’m just using the language like everyone else. Do I lie? No. Am I being purposefully dishonest, or better stated, purposefully not 100% truthful, when I use language in marketing? Yes, but consider the source. I know that there are competitors out there telling different stories, that the customer has their own preformed opinion and there’s a multitude of other sources to allow the customer to come to their own conclusion. I have to tell the story that puts my point of view in the best light. Truly, to do otherwise, would be disingenuous.

In a sense, in addition to selling my product, I’m selling a story. For the consumer market, selling a story is called lifestyle marketing. In my business (selling technology to other business), selling the story is selling the promise that my technology will reduce costs, increase revenue and therefore increase profits. The degree to which customers ‘buy’ my story is the likelihood that they’ll buy by product.

Can we get past the “post-modern” realization about these meta-truths of language? Do we use this knowledge or do we just acknowledge it and continue in our pre-“post-modern” naivetè? Just because I know using suggestive language will influence my audience, does that mean that I can’t use it?

It’s funny see partisan’s “discover” that the other side is using such devices. They’re surprised by such disingenuity, given how genuine their language is. Get over it. We all use these techniques.

Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” is NOT advocating against the use of rhetorical devices. His advise is simply restated in books like Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. He’s arguing for an economy of language not for a poverty of language.

If you believe people can be trusted and they do have the potential to be intelligent in their decision making, then it is not cynical to use devises of language. If you believe that there should be a multiplicity of ideas and that society should be a marketplace of ideas, you wouldn’t be intimidated by the use of this language but one or two “lazy” marketers or politicians. The audience, customers or voters, can decide what to believe.


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