Beware of Buzz words. Beware too of the perils of what Bobby McDonagh, in the article linked below, calls the thought incinerator. A thought incinerator is a word or phrase that can be repeated again and again to destroy thought and argument. McDonagh’s article illustrates the use of thought incinerators in politics. Being more apolitical than political, I am interested not in politics, but in the linguistic argument that involves the erosion of language and meaning and the destruction, with chanted, thoughtless choruses, of logical discourse and analysis.
Lock her up, the people have spoken, build that wall, drain the swamp, fake news, all fall into the category of thought incinerators, precisely because they can be repeated endlessly with no need to present logical arguments to support their continued usage. While these mindless chants can be attributed to one side of the political divide in the USA, more similar phrases can be found in the article below touching on the current political situation in the [Dis-] United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. some examples follow: the elite, project fear, Brussels bureaucrats, Brussels bullying, Brussels blackmail, the EU wants to punish Britain, whatever did Europe do for us, not to mention the notorious red bus and its far-reaching message “350 million quid a week for the NHS“. I encourage you to read the and hopefully to understand what such mindless repetitions do to incinerate thought within our so-called democratic society.
The problem goes beyond politics and enters the realm of language erosion. In our province, the local newspapers write at a grade nine language level and like it or not, we deal on a daily basis with functional illiteracy. Spelling, if and when people actually write, has become phonetic because less and less reading takes place, and the world is summed up in catchy sound bytes from radio and television and the shorter the better. Slowly, we are reduced to devouring slogans like those repeated above.
I look at the trees in the garden: birch, pine, spruce, fir, tamarack, hackmatac (from the Western Abenaki?), balsam poplar, larch, willow, mountain ash, black willow … they can all be reduced to trees. In my garden, at the feeder, I have birds, sparrows (so many varieties), nuthatches (white and red-breasted), woodpeckers (at east three kinds), finches (many species), grosbeaks, siskins, song-birds, warblers, passerines … but as the clear-cut loggers who cleaned the hillside behind my house pronounced “trees are just trees, we’re here to clear them out,” we might just as well say “birds, just birds, we’re here to fatten them and feed them to the cats”.
The erosion of language, the erosion of thought, the dumbing-down of society, the reduction of the world to advert, slogan, and chant, the loss of thoughtful democracy … this is what I fear most. And, as I age, I fear the loss of memory as song sparrow, white-throat, chipping, Lincoln, are slowly fading into generic ‘sparrows’. Soon, alas, they will probably all flap their wings and fly away, fading into the simplistic grey mist of a disappearing species … ‘birds’. I fear that day and I fear what memory loss and thought incineration and language erosion are doing to my precious world.
More thoughts on language erosion can be found here