My objections to the word existential has led me to compile a more complete list of political clichés and euphemisms.
Here are some of my favorite political clichés, too often relied on by the media and politicians to make themselves sound erudite, authoritative or to evade specifics or contrary views or evidence. These are overused words or phrases that have subtly misleading or ambiguous connotations and often are not as important or persuasive as they sound. When you hear them you should be on the alert that maybe you are being misled and/or manipulated:
- Existential – instead of existing, imminent, serious, very dangerous or clear and present. “Existential” is a vague, pretentious and overused word.
- Calculus – this word is not being used as a mathematical term, but instead is really intended give a mathematically precise flavor to an indefinite and subjective estimation or evaluation of a social, economic or political situation which is not really subject to mathematical precision.
- Get things done – This is a politician’s favorite semantic subterfuge, used consistently to make themselves look tough, effective and to evade or gloss over specific issues. Get what things done? Is it okay to just get something … anything? … done without getting some particular worthwhile thing done? It panders to popular frustration with political gridlock without defining in any way how that gridlock can be or should be broken. The next time I hear a politician utter this empty assurance that they will get something done I will throw a brick through the TV.
- Reach Out – instead of contact. What’s wrong with saying I contacted so and so? Is it much better, nicer or a fancier way to say you contacted or talked to some person or company or government representative? I guess it is the modern or popular thing to say “reach out” instead of contact someone. Moreover, “reach out” is ambiguous because it leaves open the question of whether the person reached out to was actually contacted.
- We take this problem seriously [some problem, like “Our planes are crashing”] – instead of “Yes, we were totally wrong and we will do everything possible to correct this terrible problem and make sure it will never happen again.”
- I made a mistake. This infamous euphemistic understatement is used by politicians and other public figures to minimize their wrongdoing — who perhaps broke the law, committed a crime (it might even have been a felony), or who lied flagrantly, but they want to say it was just a mistake. “Hey, I made a mistake when I killed the guy.”
- Socialist or socialism. This is an entirely vague, ambiguous and even meaningless pejorative label, used by politicians and media commentators to avoid arguing or considering the merits of policy proposals that they oppose. Most people have little understanding of what socialism is, and for good reason: It can mean program or service that the government performs or provides. Public schools are clearly a socialist enterprise because the schools are owned and operated by the government. Social Security and Medicare have been labeled socialist by opponents when they were proposed but are now completely acceptable, even steadfastly defended by those who have put the socialist label on other similar government programs.
- Slippery slope. This is a false metaphor when applied, as it often is, to human relations. Slippery slopes only exist in the world of tangible physical objects. There is no such thing as a slippery slope in the social or political world, especially in laws and rules governing human organization and conduct — where every policy proposal, every political change has its natural, logical and obvious limits. Good proposals are often attacked on the ground that they inevitably open the door to more extreme and absurd changes in the same direction. There is no such phenomenon. No change necessarily leads inevitably to an unstoppable momentum for unjustified or absurd change. Just because it exists in the physical world does not mean it exists in the human world. Every change will reach a logical and recognizable limit where, according to good sense, it will stop where it should stop.