Josh Alexander being escorted from his Catholic school and being arrested for defending Catholic teaching. (Photo courtesy Josh Alexander/Twitter)

Eliminate weasel words with extreme prejudice

  • March 2, 2023

We’ve all heard, ad nauseam to some degree, that words matter. But you sometimes have to wonder, to whom?

The English language is an ever-changing one. You need not look beyond the annual year end stories and Oxford Languages’ word of the year — often a phrase. Oxford describes its word of the year as “a word or expression that we can see has attracted a great deal of interest over the last 12 months.” It’s often something that a year prior did not exist, or if it did, was obsolete or almost meaningless (“goblin mode” anyone, as per Oxford 2022?)

Perhaps we are already on to our frontrunner for 2023’s word of the year, courtesy of the Associated Press. And there are three to choose from. AP, in its wisdom, has decided it is time to re-label “pregnancy resource centres” or “pregnancy counselling centres.” Apparently the phrase is too simple, and that’s so 2022.

AP’s style book has labelled these as “potentially misleading terms.” Instead, AP tells reporters they should use “anti-abortion counselling centres,” “anti-abortion centres” and “crisis pregnancy centres that oppose abortions,” which are “set up to divert or discourage women from having abortions by using counselling, materials support and/or housing in an effort to persuade women to bring their pregnancies to term.” Oh the horror!

Messing with the language, for God only knows what reason, is an age-old phenomenon. Read — or rather, try to read — any piece of legislation passed by any level of government, ever. Apparently the aim is to “obfuscate” or practice “sophistry” (to make unintelligible, or in plain locker room English, “to B.S.”) My all-time favourite — which brought much amusement in classroom discussions on American foreign policy — remains “Eliminate with extreme prejudice.” In plain English, “Kill him!”

Another phrase we are sure to see embedded in the English language is gaining traction in the ever-growing culture wars: “Assigned male at birth.” It already seems to be normalized, as per a recent story about a female surfer refusing to compete against transgendered women — those who were “assigned male at birth.” 

Or how about a person’s “lived gender identity,” part of the scenario playing out in the Renfrew Catholic school board where a student has been suspended for quoting, get this, Catholic social teaching. The board, in its response to The Catholic Register’s Quinton Amundson about transitioning males being able to use female washrooms, said it took its stance from Ontario Human Rights Commission guidelines when it said it opens these facilities to people “based on their lived gender identity.”

What’s the damage, some ask? Well, in this case, a student’s right to an education.

Now, believe what you would like around gender issues — there are only two or there are an infinite amount — for purposes of this column I don’t care. But when Catholic school boards begin to take liberties with Catholic teaching by punishing a student for following said teaching, things have gone too far. The board can tell us all it wants about how it is only implementing policy that follows the provincial human rights’ rules, and that the student can no longer use one who is transgendered’s “dead name,” but in the long run that word “Catholic” in the board’s name should mean and stand for something.

We can only imagine what’s next in today’s world that so many believe faces a crisis of misinformation. Our federal government is actively seeking to stop this “misinformation” from spreading, that being anything that doesn’t conform to what those who govern say. (And let’s not just pinpoint the Liberals here, you know anyone in power is going to define misinformation to their liking.) 

It’s no wonder when one picks up a newspaper or scans the Internet they can only shake their heads as ridiculousness is normalized. A government that has promised to be transparent does cartwheels to be anything but, using every weasel word imaginable to keep it that way. A politician caught in an extra-marital affair? Permitting the relationship to develop was a major misstep that is deeply regretted. And dare we wait for the verbiage that is to come with the NDP trying to make the denial of Canada’s “genocide” of its Indigenous people a hate crime? 

I long for the days when you said what you meant. I really mean that.

(Conlon is Managing Editor of The Catholic Register.)

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