Sunday, August 2, 2020

Quickies: Words Matter, Especially When They’re Missing – And Missed

     You all know what a stickler I am for the proper uses of words. I’ve come near to blows over the deliberate misuse of words by persons attempting to bully or deceive with them. Being a rather determined sort, I don’t back down when I catch such a miscreant in the act...and I make sure they regret bearding this particular lion in his lexicographical den.

     But there are subtleties to the use of words that are obscure to too many people. This incident provides a particularly good illustration:

     I have the utmost admiration for young Mr. Isaac, especially given the pressure he must have been under to conform to the racialist narrative to which his teammates have succumbed. That having been said, I wish he were a bit more acute about the question he was asked. Follow along with me as I rewrite the exchange.

Reporter: Do you believe Black Lives Matter?
Isaac: Ask the question properly.
Reporter: Excuse me? I said do you believe—
Isaac: I heard what you said. I also heard what you didn’t say.
Reporter: What are you talking about?
Isaac: There’s a word missing from your question, and its absence makes the question ambiguous. I refuse to answer a question phrased so ambiguously that you can interpret it to mean whatever you choose.
Reporter: What word is missing?
Isaac: Work it out for yourself, dude. Then come back and ask me again.

     My highly intelligent and articulate Gentle Readers “should” have enough information to answer the question for themselves, but just in case you’re not up for the riddle at this hour, I’ll answer it here:

  • The missing word is that.
  • It belongs after believe and before black.

     “Reporters,” of course, aren’t primarily interested in the facts these days. They’re certainly less interested in what an athlete actually believes than in whether they can get him into conformance with the editorial committee’s preferred “narrative.” So I consider it a good bet that the omission of the word that was deliberate, to create the very ambiguity I’ve cited. Your mileage may vary.


Eaton Rapids Joe said...

I am in the mood for some recreational quibbling.

"Do you believe Black Lives Matter" infers the brand Black Lives Matter (Uppercase BLM). The question as asked is searching for an affirmation that the person being questioned wholeheartedly endorses every word, comma and period of the BLM Manifesto.

The question "Do you believe that black lives matter" is the question you assumed they were asking. The question the way you think it should be asked is far more specific than the one that was asked.

By the way, Good morning.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Joe: You have assumed incorrectly about what I assumed. I took the reporter's phrasing to be deliberate: an attempt to put Isaac in conformance to the BLM ideology / agenda. I said so in the final paragraph of my piece. Always read to the end -- and never assume that my intention is anything other than what I've written. I take such affronts very, very badly.

Paul Bonneau said...

Imagined dialog...

Reporter: Do you believe Black Lives Matter?
Me: Are you talking about the sentiment, or the organization?
Reporter: Er, the sentiment.
Me: All lives matter; so since blacks are living lives too, it only follows that black lives matter as well.
Reporter: What if I said "the organization"?
Me: I'm not a communist; so no, I don't support the organization - even if it adopts that sentiment as a form of camouflage.