28 May 2011

A poke at language

I'm confused by some idioms and cultural artifacts. This occurred to me as it seems clear than one way to do a convincing impression of some other culture (speech wise anyway) is to use and understand its unique idiomatic language. Obviously there are weirder ones in English. Or in England. And in other languages. But these came up over the last week and have been bouncing around.

XYZ "saves lives". - What are they being saved from? People still all die, yes? Our intention is clearly to suggest that people are being spared from death when we use this term. They are not. They can be spared from suffering, pain, perhaps an earlier and unfortunate demise. But not from death itself. They are saved only at that time, not indefinitely. We don't have that kind of technology. Why then do we use the term as we do? I suppose lives are that valuable to us, as mortal beings, that even temporary relief from death is a salvation of sorts. But we speak too often of this as a general theme, and also too often overlook things like quality of life improvements in our apparent haste to avoid dying. The focus we have on an idiom like this doesn't do us any favors.

An insistence on using the term "Constitutional Republic" when "democracy" will do to describe, broadly speaking anyway, the system of government used by liberal, Western states like the US. The specificity is not necessarily useful and confuses people when discussing various economic and geopolitical theories related to a broader interpretation of "democracy" than the mere literal direct popular votes entailed by a direct democracy. Which almost no one wants or uses anyway. The term is more or less useless outside of an academic setting. Why do some Americans bother to bring out the word police baton when we might use them more generally to describe a system of government involving equal protection of civil rights and unimpeded participation in the political process (ie, voting, peaceful protests, etc)?
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