Saturday, July 16, 2011

Health Reform: Hedges, Dodges, Ambiguities, and Dying Metaphors

Hedge – A calculatedly noncommittal or evasive statement.

Dictionary definition


The Artful Dodger.

Charles Dickens

A mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.

George Orwell, Politics and the English Language, 1946

July 16, 2011- I admire George Orwell’e essays. He cuts to the heart in his opening sentences. And he is death on clich├ęs, hackneyed expressions, and worn-out metaphors – the stuff of political talking points and political evasions.

But Orwell did not talk openly of political hedges and dodges, perhaps because he lived before talk show interviews proliferated on TV and the Internet.

One of their most powerful techniques is prefacing their remarks with a conditional phrase.

Here are a few of these conditional words and expressions that hedge, dodge, and evade.

CLEARLY- This is intended to show the politician understands the intent and consequences of the vast health reform law. He or she is saying, I now more about this than you do, and By God, I am going to enlighten you. But clearly, no one knows where health reform is going or where it will end.

THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS - What I am about to say is deep, profound, and irrefutable, even though the law’s consequences are still unknown and evolving.

I DON'T ANSWER HYPOTHETICALS - Translated: You were stupid to ask that question. Besides, I don’t have the slightest idea of what the answer it. It beats the hell out of me. Like everybody else, I have yet to read the 2500 page health reform law.


MY SOURCES TELL ME-
Personally I have no knowledge of the health reform law. But my inside sources tell me it will save money and cover more people. If that does not work out, it is my sources’ problem , not mine.


HAVING SAID THAT- This politician is about to contradict himself. This will prompt you to compare both statements to find out what the hell he meant, if anything. Shake, straddle, and roll.

GOOD QUESTION - This phrase that makes the questioner look intelligent for asking the question, but the politicians is saying he has no intelligent answer. It gives the politician time to dream up an ambiguous answer without admitting “I don’t know.”

KEEP MY OPTIONS OPEN - This phrase lets crafty politicians change their minds mid-stream. While the public admires his flexibility, they soon realize that his mouth is more open than his options.

MY HONORABLE COLLEAGUE - Heard ad nauseam in the Two Houses. It's a dignified way to call your opponent a jerk. The truth is, legislators may refer to their counterparts on the other side as colleagues, but not likely to think of any of them as honorable.

How does one avoid this sort of hedging and dodging? There are no rules of thumb, but a good place to start may be to take Orwell’s advice on the proper use of the English language.

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

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