A dump truck works near the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the city of Fort McMurray, Alta., on June 1, 2014. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Mitchell’s Musings: Modern language is a work in progress

‘Professional’ communication requires more critical thinking from listeners

Language is an ever-evolving phenomenon, especially in these politically correct times, where if a word or phrase gains too much political baggage we just come up with another word for the same thing. Perception is, after all, reality, right? And who needs history or context anyway?

So global warming becomes climate change and the tar sands become the oil sands, it’s all about marketing and selling an idea to the masses.

Temperatures weren’t going up quite as much as predicted and our coastal cities weren’t drowning due to the melting of the ice caps as quickly as previously advertised, so global warming became climate change. Besides, that way we can attribute storms, floods and any other natural disaster, even extreme cold spells, to climate change and carbon and man and civilization and gee, if only man wasn’t here to screw everything up.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a climate change denier, not even a global warming denier for that matter – we are getting warmer – I’m just saying there’s a marketing aspect to everything so be aware of it. Vested interests are everywhere, on both sides. Scientists get grants after all. And I guess being a Y2K survivor and an oil-crisis survivor, I’m a little reluctant to believe every “sky is falling” scenario from scientists who are as good at predicting the future as meteorologists, financial experts, political prognosticators, tea leaf readers and, well, you and me.

But, of course, we can’t continue going on as we have using up fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow either, ahem.

And the natural-resource industry knows they have a marketing challenge too, thus oil sands. Tar sands sounds like something from the Flintstones Era, conjuring up images of wooly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers. You can’t turn mucky, heavy, icky dense, prehistoric tar into oil without a lot of intervention and pollution, so why even try?

But oil sands?

Heck that sounds way easier, even doable, like we’d-be-stupid-not-to-do-it kind of scenario. And in reality, it’s the same stuff we used to call tar sands.

Isn’t marketing wonderful?

I always thought the airline industry utilized high-faluting language to justify its high prices and keep it firmly entrenched in the upper echelon of the snobby way to travel. I mean there’s departure lounges and the fact that no one gets off a jet, they deplane.

Can you imagine if the driver of a Greyhound announced, “As you debus please remember to take your belongings?”

The working-class clients would go, “What the hell? I’m just trying to get off de bus. What’s he talking about?”

I noticed the use of language in the coverage of the recent impeachment trial on cable TV news.

Fox News labelled it the “Senate Impeachment Trial” on their graphics. Leaving the fact of who they’re impeaching and what his title might be for their viewers to figure out. It’s not like they’re hiding anything, right? Besides it’s not gonna happen anyway, so why put his name and title in the same sentence as the word impeachment anyway?

MSNBC and CNN thought differently, surprisingly, and called it something like “the Impeachment Trial of Donald J. Trump.” Almost taking some delight in the president’s full name being that close to the word impeachment. Almost like they were hoping to just drop the one word ‘Trial” when it was all over and use the same graphic when he was convicted. Alas, not to be.

Nevertheless, no matter what side of the political or environmental or even travel industry you may be on, you’re being played to a certain extent. And that’s okay, it’s how modern society operates and communicates. But be aware of it, do some critical thinking for yourself and every time they come up with a new word to replace a perfectly fine word, ask why and who it benefits.

And please don’t forget we’re all in this together and act accordingly.

Glenn Mitchell is a columnist and former editor of The Vernon Morning Star. Fan mail can be addressed to mitchchap1@outlook.com.

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