As someone who teaches the importance, values, power and etymology of words, as well as teaching people to think before they speak or write and to analyze the things others say and write, I am having a little difficulty with the recent increase of “engineering “ being done to the language to normalize the use of phrases such as “ reality tv”, “alternate reality”, and most recently, “alternative facts “, just to mention a few.
Language depends on the common denominator of words having the same meaning to everyone engaged in the particular communication process. That means the word black doesn’t mean brown to some of the people engaged in the process and green to the others, that means that black means black.
I teach students to use concrete words when the write or speak in order to communicate successfully as opposed to “abstract” words like nice, which can mean different things to different people. In fact, it has been my experience that when people use abstract words or phrases, they are attempting to intentionally obfuscate the point being made, that they have no desire to communicate, that, in fact, they are actually trying to do the exact opposite – to exclude, disenfranchise, to ostracize.
For example, let’s look at the three terms highlighted earlier in this essay: reality tv, alternate reality, and alternative truth. In the phrase reality tv , the simple fact is that reality tv isn’t real at all. It’s scripted and last time I checked, you can’t script reality- it’s usually not all that good at taking directions. That means the term reality tv is actually an oxymoron – a phrase that contains words that contradict each other.
In the phrase alternate reality, the fact is that the alternate to reality would be not reality. After all, the first four letters of the word reality is real. The only alternative to real is NOT real. There is no “other” real- a thing is either real or it isn’t.
Finally, let’s look at alternative facts. Just so you know, the root “act” means “to do”. A benefactor is a person who does good, while a malefactor is a person who does evil. A fact is something a person can prove because it has already been done. It can’t be undone or made not a fact. This means it the best case scenario, an alternative fact is something that has not been done (which would make it NOT a fact), in the worst case scenario it’s a lie, pure and simple.
To communicate successfully, you must have a sender, a message and a receiver. If the language the sender is using to formulate the message is nebulous, inexact, amorphous and intentionally obfuscatory, the process of communication is corrupted and cannot do what it is designed to do.
This has been the communicative process since humans first began to talk and the process is the same today, reality tv, alternate reality and alternative facts notwithstanding.
[We do not have an Alternate President. He is our reality. Unfortunately.] D.G.