Anthropologists believe that humans first developed language between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago. As people spread across the Earth, languages were adapted to local conditions and needs. Even within the same language—English, say, or Spanish—different dialects were created, and the meaning of some words changed to suit local requirements.
It happens so slowly that it’s seldom evident, but language is evolving even today.
In his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-four, George Orwell coins the term “Newspeak” for a modified version of the language the socialist government is instituting. He goes on to explain that since thoughts are couched in words, if a word doesn’t exist for a concept, it’s impossible to think about that concept. Thus, by controlling the language, the government can control thought.
To an extent, we’re already seeing Newspeak being introduced into our daily lives. Most media outlets (including supposedly conservative ones) now refer to illegal aliens as people who are “undocumented.” They are referred to as undocumented immigrants, or undocumented workers.
The public (and in most cases, illegal) display of private body parts is now a “wardrobe malfunction.”
Unborn babies, despite being living creatures with detectable heartbeats, are dehumanized by being called “fetuses.”
Liberals, especially those in college, have made significant contributions to Newspeak. Statements that are deemed offensive are called “microaggressions.” Any idea with which one disagrees is labeled “hate speech.” And visual things like pictures, statues, or writing with which one disagrees must be preceded by “trigger warnings.”
Newspeak took a major step forward in mid-August of 2019 when the Board of Supervisors of the city of San Francisco passed what they called a “Person-First Resolution.” While not binding on members of the general public, the Resolution changes the language of the city’s legal documents.
Here’s a fact that may shock you. It shocked me. One out of every five residents of the state of California has a criminal record. When you consider that probably two of those five people are children, that means that one out of every three California adults has a criminal record.
The Board of Supervisors explained that they want previously-convicted people to become productive members of society, involved in their communities, schools, workplaces, and places of worship. That is made difficult by the use of words like “prisoner,” “convict,” “inmate,” and “felon.” According to the Board of Supervisors, those words are dehumanizing and serve only to separate people from society.
Therefore, the Person-First Resolution replaces such divisive words with descriptive phrases that are kinder and gentler. Specifically, the Resolution mandates the following changes to the city’s legal documents.
OLDSPEAK SAN FRANCISCO NEWSPEAK
Convicted felon justice-involved person
Homeless previously housed individuals; accommodation challenged
Inmate person in restricted housing
Just released from prison formerly incarcerated person
Repeat offender returning resident
People on parole or probation persons under supervision
Juvenile delinquent young people impacted by the justice system
Addict persons with a history of substance abuse
Some of these things are simply the use of several words to say what one word previously accomplished. “Addict” and “persons with a history of substance abuse,” for example. But some could be interpreted several ways. A “person in restricted housing,” for example, could be a coed college student living in a rigidly-supervised dormitory. A “young person impacted by the justice system” could be an unpaid intern in a lawyer’s office.
A “returning resident” could be someone moving back into a place where he previously lived. And of course, most working people are “persons under supervision.” Does anyone get the impression, as I do, that these phrases are deliberately designed to be misleading?
So where do we go from here? I have some suggestions.
FUTURE ADDITIONS TO NEWSPEAK:
Robbing a bank unauthorized withdrawal of funds
Stealing a car appropriation of transportation facilities
Sexual assault unwelcome personal intrusion
Assault and battery unwanted contact
Murder life deprivation
Victims of crimes subjects of unwanted actions
Drug dealers unlicensed pharmacists
Suicide bombers explosive experts
Unemployed between jobs; consultant
Poor economically disadvantaged
Prostitutes pleasure vendors
Short (as in stature) vertically challenged
As a matter of fact, thinking these things up is kinda fun. Give it a try.