Capitalism, fascism, neo-liberalism, structural racism, transphobia, wokeness: these giant, airborne nouns, which float around the discourse like zeppelins, are unavoidable in some ways. We probably have to use them. But we should be aware that there is a price to be paid, in clarity and intelligence, for doing so. I sometimes read passages of writing that consist of almost nothing else. I try and use them as sparingly and as precisely as possible, wincing a little inside as I do so. And sometimes when I search for a way to say what I’m saying without using the obvious word, I find a more powerful way of saying it.
On the other hand, keeping your language vague and abstract can be a smart rhetorical tactic. It minimises your exposure to counter-evidence and argument. It means you can send luridly coloured smoke signals about where you stand without having explain or defend your position in any depth (cough, Judith Butler). It allows you to pump out feelings of animosity and outrage without defining the offence, which is why culture wars thrive in this environment.
I used to complain that people just recite the currently approved phrases (“diversity, equity, and inclusion”) and therefore should look for less predictable and more vivid ways to say what they mean. Then I realized that reciting the approved phrases is the whole point. I might as well have been asking people to vary the language in the Pledge of Allegiance.
In closely related news, I have a post up at the Hog Blog on why people say that stanning for an Anglo-Saxon king is “woke tosh.”