Friday, January 14, 2011

809 Linguistic Creationism

809 Linguistic Creationism

We need it, sometimes. Evolution of language doesn’t always work right.

Take Sarah Palin’s “Blood Libel” outburst about the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ.) The sheriff in Tucson blames right wing media for creating a climate in which an obviously crazy post-adolescent with a right wing agenda kills a federal judge, a little kid and others, and wounds Giffords and others.

Part of that was Palin’s web page with gun sights used to label congressional districts including Giffords’. (Gun sights she later called “surveyors’ marks or symbols.) Palin told us that accusations against uberconservatives were “blood libel.” They weren’t any kind of libel.

“Blood libel” originated with the allegation that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood in religious rites. The phrase is mighty, loaded and wrong. It didn’t and doesn’t happen. There’s no blood in Jewish religious rites except for circumcision and then it’s only a drop of the blood of the circumcised. Blood libel is the Jewish equivalent of the “N-word.”

Then along comes a “group” claiming “several hundred” members called “Jews for Sarah.” And one alleged member, pathology professor Nahum Duker, M.D. of Temple University says Palin’s use of the term was merely an example of “language living as it evolves.”

If so, we need linguistic creationism. Blood libel means what it’s always meant; it’s not just a criticism with an underscore and an exclamation point.

Lesser examples: “Carrot on a stick” has become “carrot and a stick,” changing its meaning from the promise of a reward to a choice between reward and punishment.

“Tinker’s dam” has become “tinker’s damn,” changing the meaning of an almost worthless little dab of metal used to mend a hole in a cooking pot to a common though minor curse.

Neither of these two examples is toxic. Blood libel is. No matter how or by whom the meaning is twisted.

Being a prescriptive dictionary fundamentalist ain’t easy these days.

If you want to talk directly to Duker, here’s his work phone: 215-707-2781. His home phone is 215 782 8067. If you’d rather write, here are his emails: Email:, and the modestly put Doubtful you’ll get through. Nothing else seems to have.


--Starting next month, you can get an iPhone that works on the Verizon network, which, unlike AT&T doesn’t drop calls all the time. Apple has come too late to the party and while the competing Android phones don’t do quite as many things, they actually work when making or receiving calls. And they’re getting cheaper all the time.

--What do the department stores Macy’s and Kohl’s have in common? Tough to navigate on-line bill pay sites that practically demand you use Internet Explorer, clunkiest of the browsers. Penney’s site is easy, but then to use it you have to shop at Penney’s, which is tougher than paying.

--We met a nice, chubby border collie age 12, which supposedly is pretty old for that breed. Arthritic hips, delicate stomach and other ailments. But he’s still looking to herd anything that moves... slowly.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© WJR 2011
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