A living language constantly evolves to reflect societal change and priorities.
Therefore, as we transition into a new decade, it’s timely to consider recently coined words and phrases.
Unfortunately, many reflect the disturbing trend of weaponizing language.
Truthiness is something that feels true, but likely isn’t.
Big data refers to the use of data to psychologically profile and target propaganda toward individuals.
Fake news is the deliberate creation of false news and hoaxes.
Alternative facts is a convenient label for countering inconvenient evidence.
Post-truth defines an era without shared objective standards for truth.
Cancel-culture describes attempts to expel someone from social and professional circles for perceived wrong-doing.
Deep-fake is the act of seamlessly superimposing one image over another to create false evidence.
Technology facilitated the development of pervasive communication channels like social media and data analysis tools. Both can be positive and beneficial, but beware the dark underbelly of manipulation and propaganda.
Way back in high school, I belonged to a debate club. I particularly enjoyed the challenge of arguing a position I didn’t personally agree with.
A decade and a half later, as an elected school trustee, I continued to ask questions from the perspective of different sides of an issue, particularly if it seemed no one else was going to.
Occasionally, this approach got me offside with some of my fellow elected representatives. They assumed the questions reflected my voting intentions.
They didn’t, but I’ve always believed it’s important to discuss and consider other points of view before making a decision.
Today, in an increasingly polarized society, those who question the sound-bite truth of the day are often treated like heretics.
I’m alarmed by the increasing intolerance of a diversity of opinion and the shutting down of reasoned discussion and debate over the big issues facing our communities, nation and world.
We are living in an age of unprecedented innovation and scientific advancement, but also of unprecedented weaponizing of language, data and communications.
As we approach the end of the second decade of the 21st Century, the divergence between knowledge and debate may be the legacy of the 2010s we most regret.
Trivium is an archaic word from the Middle Ages that describes, collectively, the language arts of logic, rhetoric and grammar.
Learning to recognize logical fallacies is a key component of critical thinking. This, along with an understanding of the psychology of propaganda can be an effective inoculant. They should be taught in public schools, but clearly many of us weren’t paying attention in class.
A lot of us could also use refresher courses on scientific methods, the nature of evidence, logic, philosophy, and the psychology of propaganda.
Fortunately, online resources make it easier than ever to fill the gaps in our personal education. Making the effort requires motivation.
Fortunately, lights are being shone into the dark recesses at the highest levels and exposing ethical breaches, but it’s up to the rest of us to act on revelations.
As an example, the troubles of the current American administration reach well beyond their borders and many Canadians were glued to the impeachment hearings this November.
Words are being wielded in an effort to flense opposition and cause dissent rather than engage in debate and discussion.
We don’t have to look far for examples.
Locally, people on both sides of the homelessness issue use the terms haters and enablers as pejoratives. Both words are wielded to stereotype, denigrate and dismiss dissent and opposition.
These derogatory labels are flung around the fighting pits of social media and their only purpose appears to be to cast aspersions and shut down discussion.
New words and phrases also point to challenges that require our attention.
The 2019 words of the year from Oxford Dictionary and Collins Dictionary are climate emergency and climate strike.
The Cambridge Dictionary word of the year is upcycling. Runners up include carbon-sink, compostable, rewilding, and plant-based.
We are not going to meet modern challenges without working together and allowing room for civilized discussion and debate.
Do we really want to expend so much energy engaged in unproductive shouting and shaming matches?
Perhaps 2020 can be the beginning of a decade of adulting.
Katherine Wagner is a member of the
Citizens’ Task Force on Transparency,
a former school trustee and member of Golden Ears Writers.