May 19, 2005

Learning To Read - Fallacies And Misleading Language

Reading the English language has been taken advantage of for way too long in this country and I need to say something about it. People who understand how it works are duping people into thinking one thing or the other. I really feel sort of sorry for them. Imagine, the language you learned as a child coming back at you to take your money, weasel its way out of an insurance claim or even turning you into a political lackey. I believe its high time someone explained how the English language works and I'm may be just the guy to do it.


Since I just used this word in my last sentence let’s start with may. By using a direct definition it means, "there is a possibility of". The word may is quite possibly the easiest word to use when you want to make yourself an escape route out of a potentially sticky statement. You can even use it to incriminate someone without actually making an accusation. Lets try a few:

Soldiers at Gitmo may have flushed passages from the Koran.

Well, it's possible. I don't think it to be true myself, but it may have happened.
Let's try another:

This post is also available at Blogger News Network.

Ogre may have had an intimate relationship with a llama named Rusty.
Do I know for a fact that he did? No. I don't know for a fact he didn't do it either. There is an astronomically miniscule possibility that he did.

Last one:

You may have just one ten gazillion dollars!

...and then again, so may have ten million other people who got the same letter in the mail.

Does that just about do it for everyone? Do we understand how we can weasel in and out of the word may now? Good. We can now move on the next lesson class.

Passive Induction

(Note, passive induction is my term for it. There may be another, more fitting definition out there.)

This is where you include a piece of information in a statement that is used to make an association when, in fact, none has been made. It's used all the time and there's actually a logical fallacy that ties directly into this. It's called style over substance.

Probably the most recent example of passive induction is what is going to happen tomorrow when Moveon (Please) dot Org puts out their multi-million dollar commercial comparing Tom Delay to Darth Sidius, aka The Emperor. Does this give any facts? No. Does it give you the impression that Tom Delay is an evil man? Yes, that's how it works. They throw up some graphics and make some accusations but don't present any facts.

Here is my all time favorite ones, courtesy of Darth President Cheney:

[Iraq has]...the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.

Now that was well scripted. Did you miss it? Yeah, I know. Alot of people did, including the news agencies. Lets break it down.
"Iraq had a geographic base of terrorists that have had us under assault for some time now."

This does not imply that the terrorists came from Iraq. Lets split this up another way:
...the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.

Hey! What happened to Iraq? Where did they go from the statement? Yeah, many people still don't get it. *sigh*

Cheney made a tie between the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda and Iraq. He then made a separate tie between Al-Qaeda and 9/11. He did NOT make a direct tie between Iraq and 9/11. If that's what you thought you have been used and abused by the English language.


(This is actually a fallacy of Ambiguity. Go HERE for more on fallacies.)

This is where there are two meanings to a word and you assume one or the other, only to be wrong. It's another form of creating a loophole in your arguments. You need to watch this one. Pay attention to Rumsfeld with this one. He's the king at using it.

Here's the first example from one of my articles:

The Dyson Vacuum Really Sucks!

Did everyone catch the double meaning there? You can either use the word to say that it is a crappy product or to say it can pick up a lot of dirt. Even those that can't read without moving their lips should have got that one.

Moving on to a statement from Rumsfeld, I can't find the source or the exact quote, but it was in reference to the guy from the Defense Department that stated the Russians moved the nukes to Syria.

...he spoke out of turn and has been spoken to about making claims the Defense Department is not prepared to authenticate.

Did he lie or just speak out of turn? Will the Defense department authenticate it at a later date? Notice Rummy didn't deny anything the guy said, only that he wasn't prepared to back the statement. It is a world of difference from making a direct statement against him.

Thank you for reading along and hopefully learning a few nuances to the English language. If you feel I am wrong feel free to tell me all about it in the comments. Who knows, you may be right!

Posted by aakaakaak at May 19, 2005 05:10 PM

You MAY already be a winner.

Posted by: Nickie Goomba at May 19, 2005 06:47 PM

Yes sir! MAY I have another, sir?!

Wait, that's not the same at all... nevermind.

Posted by: Editor at May 19, 2005 07:19 PM

You are exactly correct; people use the English language to advocate the point of view they want you to adopt and it is the basis of common law. Argument, or discourse, to set forth a proposition is only half the battle in communications -- you must also back up what you say with factual representations and, hopefully, elaboration. Politicians (trained in law) often make the proposition, but rarely back it up with facts or elaborations. It is amazing to me how many politicians avoid answering direct questions, and no one ever seems to call them on it.

Two weeks ago, Margot Wallstrom (a Vice President for the European Union) made a public plea for support of the EU Constitution. Ratification of the constitution will have the effect of forming the United States of Europe. In her argument, she stated that a failure to ratify the constitution will result in the return of fascism in Europe, and the extermination of millions of people. I wrote to her via her Blog and called her on it, showing her where he reliance on fallacies of argument did more to defeat her credibility than any other single thing, other than perhaps to have a relationship with Monica Lewinski.

Sadly, our politicians and those in Europe are successful in the use of "double-speak." The premise (logic) here is this: Most people are too ignorant to catch them on it, and for those who do, politicians simply refuse to answer any direct questions. And Jeremy, you are right about this, too: if we don't start holding ourselves to a high standard, forget expecting the same from any of our elected representatives.

Semper Fi . . .

Posted by: Mustang at May 19, 2005 09:34 PM

Very well done. I have been waiting for someone to do something like this and you have nailed it directly. Thank you.

I noticed you changed up your blog look a little, nice.

Posted by: An American Housewife at May 19, 2005 11:23 PM

You have come by your interest in words and their use quite naturally I think. Your Great Grandma spent hours ripping articles to pieces for this very reason.
Both of you have a very good point, and she would applaud you and cheer you on for shining a light on it, as do I.

Posted by: Mountain Mama at May 20, 2005 01:12 AM

Excellent post!

Posted by: Jay at May 20, 2005 11:26 AM

How long a Quran submerged in urine would last in a museum ?

Posted by: Neo at May 20, 2005 03:13 PM

How long would a Quran submerged in urine last in a museum ?

Posted by: Neo at May 20, 2005 03:16 PM

As a student of Islam, I can tell you that a Quran may be dunked in urine but only with one's left hand.

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