Tag Archives: Lakoff

The Games and Tricks We Play with Words

Remember Don’t Think of an Elephant! and its co-author George Lakoff and then go to Trump Means Exactly What He Says: Trump is swaying millions with his calculated rhetoric also by Lakoff. Lakoff takes the time to dissect Trump’s seemingly casual throw-away words and helps us understand a lot about the subtleties of communication. We can often sense that something’s not right or that there’s a message being conveyed that is not being explicitly stated, but Lakoff’s analysis helps us identify why we can sense that and puts a spotlight on the mechanisms by which that unstated message is being conveyed:

Here’s his analysis of Trump’s suggestion that many took as a call to assassinate Hilary Clinton:

Here is the classic case, the Second Amendment Incident. The thing to be aware of is that his words are carefully chosen. They go by quickly when people hear them. But they are processed unconsciously first by neural circuitry—and neurons operate on a thousandth-of-a-second time scale. Your neural circuitry has plenty of time to engage in complex forms of understanding, based on what you already know.

Trump begins by saying, “Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment.” He first just says “abolish,” and then hedges by adding “essentially abolish.” But having said “abolish” twice, he has gotten across the message that she wants to, and is able to change the Constitution in that way.

Now, at the time the Second Amendment was written, the “arms” in “bear arms” were long rifles that fired one bullet at a time. The “well-regulated militia” was a local group, like a contemporary National Guard unit, regulated by a local government with military command structure. They were protecting American freedoms against the British.

The Second Amendment has been reinterpreted by contemporary ultra-conservatives as the right of individual citizens to bear contemporary arms (e.g. AK-47s), either to protect their families against invaders or to change a government by armed rebellion if that government threatens what they see as their freedoms. The term “Second Amendment” activates the contemporary usage by ultra-conservatives. It is a dog-whistle term, understood in that way by many conservatives.

Now, no president or Supreme Court could literally abolish any constitutional amendment alone. But a Supreme Court could judge that certain laws concerning gun ownership could be unconstitutional. That is what Trump meant by “essentially abolish.”

Thus, the election of Hillary Clinton threatens the contemporary advocates of the Second Amendment.

Trump goes on: “By the way, and if she gets to pick [loud boos]—if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

Here are the details.
read more »