Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Murder and metaphor

The gun rampage in Arizona that has left six dead and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically injured has initiated a great deal of discussion in the media in the USA and elsewhere. Many commentators have focused on Arizona's gun laws, while others have chosen to focus on the language of political debate and whether or not the febrile atmosphere stoked up by the right wing Tea Party might have contributed to a climate in which such an attack was inevitable.

Today's Guardian features an article by Jonathan Freedland in which he explores the language of conflict and warfare that has been used in recent political discourse in the USA. He picks up on Sarah Palin's visual imagery of crosshairs targeting Giffords' congressional seat as well as the combative streak that runs through her rhetoric, including her exhortation for her supporters not to retreat but to "reload": a bit ironic really, given that for all her love of guns, Palin is reputed to be a hopeless shot (as well as an imbecile, obviously).

Freedland makes a number of interesting points about the language of politics, one of which being that politics is saturated with violent metaphors:

...Palin is hardly the first politician to use the language of combat. She could argue that anyone who has ever referred to "battleground" constituencies, talked of candidates "wounded" by "fatal blows" or arguments "shot down" is just as guilty as she is. In this, she could cite the unlikeliest examples. It was the sainted Obama who revved up a crowd in 2008 by declaring of his Republican opponents: "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun."

Elsewhere, the linguist John McWhorter  takes a look at the ways he thinks the internet is partly responsible for glib soundbites, rather than reasoned and nuanced rhetorical debate, taking hold of politics.

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