Words Do Matter
We used to have a card on our refrigerator that read:
“Let’s eat Grandma
“Let’s eat, Grandma
This morning 33 writers have a great short piece in the New York Times headed, “Words Matter: Stop Using ‘Quid Pro Quo.'”
The writers rightly, helpfully and urgently argue that 1) people don’t understand this Latin phrase and 2) it muddies the waters as an exchange of “this” for “that” is not a criminal action and so leaves people who do understand it or look it up scratching their heads and asking, “Why is this a problem?” Read on.
“That (a quid pro quo) is not a crime; the crime is President Trump’s demand for something that will benefit him personally. But using this neutral phrase — which means simply ‘this for that’ — as synonymous with criminality is confusing to the public. It makes the case more complicated, more open to question and more difficult to plead.
“Please use words that refer only to criminal behavior here. Use ‘bribery’ or ‘extortion’ to describe Mr. Trump’s demand to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, making it very clear that this is a crime. The more we hear words that carry moral imputations, the more we understand the criminal nature of the act.”
Score a point, heck, score a win for English majors! They are right. An exchange or goods or favors is not a crime. Happens all the time. The issue is alleged bribery or extortion.
“Please also stop using the phrase ‘dig up dirt.'”
Exactly, this gives people the impression there is dirt to dig, when multiple prior investigations have concluded there is no dirt, no malfeasance here on the part of former Vice President Biden.
“This slang,” notes the writers, “has unsavory connotations. Instead, please use the more formal, direct and powerful phrase ‘create false evidence,’ or ‘find incriminating evidence’ or the simpler ‘tell lies about.'”
Yes, that is the issue. Not “oppo research,” which is, yes, common practice. Trump wasn’t asking for research on the opposition. He was asking a foreign government to “tell lies about” a political opponent if they wanted promised military aid. Big difference.
A part of Trump’s genius is to use words that ever so subtly mislead and distort, and thereby contribute to a prevailing cynicism. “What’s the big deal? Everyone does it.”
No, not everyone, not every President, does bribery and extortion. This one does. Get real. Get clear. Get accurate.
Thank you writers!