Lakoff on Why You Shouldn’t Say “War on Terror”

Berkeley professor explains how to talk with conservatives: Linguistics prof. George Lakoff dissects the “war on terror” and other conservative catchphrases.

You’ve said that progressives should never use the phrase “war on terror” — why?

There are two reasons for that. Let’s start with “terror.” Terror is a general state, and it’s internal to a person. Terror is not the person we’re fighting, the “terrorist.” The word terror activates your fear, and fear activates the strict father model, which is what conservatives want. The “war on terror” is not about stopping you from being afraid, it’s about making you afraid.

Next, “war.” How many terrorists are there — hundreds? Sure. Thousands? Maybe. Tens of thousands? Probably not. The point is, terrorists are actual people, and relatively small numbers of individuals, considering the size of our country and other countries. It’s not a nation-state problem. War is a nation-state problem.

2 Responses to “Lakoff on Why You Shouldn’t Say “War on Terror””

  1. John F. Says:

    I remember hearing Maureen Dowd going over this (terrorism and the War on Terror) a few days ago when she was making the TV rounds… Terror/Terrorism is a tactic… Sorta like carpet bombing, smart bombing, land mines, etc… I forgot exactly what she said but it made you think about how it was another blunder from the Bush administration.

    Sorta like this concept of “HOmeland Security”. Would someone clarify why we need a second defensive branch in government when the DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE is supposed to defend the country against hostilities?

  2. Ian Wood Says:

    Another linguist who has sailed far beyond the boundaries of his expertise and into a theoretical wasteland.

    Underlying all of Lakoff’s political musings (2003’s “Moral Politics,” in particular”) is the conviction that people–except for him, and others like him–are stupid, and respond to certain words like programmed automatons.

    Lakoff’s constructs are Aristotelian, in an ivory-tower sort of way: a series of assertions aboout how the world is, without any evidence whatsoever, raised up into a vast edifice of elite assumption.

    It’s a living, I suppose.

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