Saturday, September 25, 2004

a vocabulary lesson

Powerline has a post criticizing Jennifer Loven for a piece in the AP. Sometimes I think we conservatives are too quick to criticize and too slow to help someone who needs advice. Never ascribe to malice what can be explained by, er, a weak vocabulary. In that spirit, I wrote the following letter to Ms. Loven:

Dear Ms. Loven,

I recently saw your AP article originally entitled "Bush Twists Kerry's Words on Iraq" and now entitled "Bush, Kerry Twisting Each Other's Words". You write very well. Your article shows careful research and a close attention to details. Let me congratulate you for a job mostly well-done.

However --and I hate to have to use that word, but I really must-- the tone of your article was rather unfortunately distorted by an unhappy use of terminology. For example, you write that Bush made
charges that twisted his rival's words on Iraq and made Kerry seem supportive of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein
In support of this you write:
[Bush] stated flatly that Kerry had said earlier in the week "he would prefer the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the situation in Iraq today."

But Kerry never said that. ... [he said] "We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."
You see, Bush was not quoting Kerry, so the observation that "Kerry never said that" is not to the point. Bush was, rather, pointing out the consequences of what Kerry said. Yes, yes, we know that Kerry called Saddam a bad man. Bush wasn't claiming that Kerry held any affection for Saddam. Bush was merely pointing out that Kerry thinks the US was better off with Saddam in power. In that sense, Kerry "would prefer the dictatorship of Saddam".

This is an important vocabulary distinction that you should try to internalize. "to twist someone's words" means to allege that the person said or implied something that they did not. What Bush did in this case is more properly characterized with the usage: "to point out the consequences of someone's words".

I can see how you might confuse these two acts. In both cases, one adds to the actual words spoken. But in the first case, one does so falsely and in the second case, one does so truly. It is important to distinguish these two different processes.

In the next segment, you write:
Bush attacked Kerry for calling "our alliance 'the alliance of the coerced and the bribed.'"

"You can't build alliances if you criticize the efforts of those who are working side by side with you," the president said in Janesville, Wis.

Kerry did use the phrase to describe the U.S.-led coalition of nations in Iraq...

But Bush mischaracterized Kerry's criticism, which has not been aimed at the countries that have contributed a relatively small number of troops and resources, but at the administration for not gaining more participation from other nations.
Once again, I must correct your vocabulary. What Bush did in this case is not to "mischaracterize" anything, but, again, to "point out the consequences" of Kerry's rash words. You see, when you insult person A as part of an attack on person B, it is quite common for person A to take offense at the insult even if they recognize that they were not the primary target.

For example, suppose one man says to another, "The only reason she married you is because you're rich and she's a whore." In this case the wife in question is highly likely to take personal offense at the description even if the remark was primarily intended to disparage her husband's skills at romance. The fact is that her virtue was, in fact, called into question.

George Bush is merely pointing out that John Kerry has called England, Australia, Spain, Italy, Poland and many other allies of the US virtual whores, and that these other nations are likely to take exception to the description even if the remarks were primarily intended to disparage George Bush's skills at alliance building.

So here's hoping you do better in the future. Keep a dictionary at hand and perhaps ask your editor to be bit more thorough. After all, your editor also bears some of the responsibility for proper word usage in the article.

Doc Rampage

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