Words matter. Few have made this point more poignantly than George Orwell. Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, published in 1949, opens with: "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen," alerting the reader to a change in what is normal, in what is acceptable or expected. Later, in his essay Politics and The English Language, Orwell writes, "...if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." In a world where freedom of speech remains essential to honest discourse, attending to Orwell's writings seems wise.
Thus lately, as I have read newspapers, journals, and listened to the news, I have had an eerie sense that the clock is striking 13. The Orwellian reference refused ignoring when I read the reported restrictions on language at the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention): "Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden terms at a meeting in mid-December with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden terms are "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based" and "science-based."
Whether these words remain "forbidden," it is apparent we are proceeding down a dangerous path. I am reminded of the essential League of Women Voters principle to "Oppose major threats to basic constitutional rights." The United States Constitution's First Amendment states: Congress shall make no law "abridging the freedom of speech." Now, the CDC has not been constrained by Congress, but any abridgement to freedom of expression provokes cause for consideration. One may think of "Newspeak"--the language of Oceania in Orwell's 1984 world--as parallel to the notion of "fake news," a prominent phrase in our present political discourse. Surely, any constraint on truth is something our League must notice, watch, and take seriously.
Words matter. Let us use ours with care, and let us not become complacent in this new year.
I send to you and all you hold dear the warmest of holiday wishes and thanks for all you have given to our League this year.
League of Women Voters Concord-Carlisle
December 20, 2017