About a week ago, a reader of this blog asked me to write something about the peculiar use of socialism in Republican rhetoric during this campaign season. I begged off, protesting that it was (as someone else put it) above my pay grade. Fortunately, linguist Geoff Nunberg has ridden to my rescue with an analysis of this word and related ones, such as reactionary and class warfare. Here's the long version of "The Ism Dismalest of All"; the audio version, recorded for NPR, will be available on the Fresh Air website later today.
And speaking of rhetoric, here's an interesting post by Anil Dash—the ultra-smart co-founder of Six Apart, which hosts this blog and many others—about "What Sarah Palin Is Saying" when she accuses Barack Obama of, for example, "palling around with terrorists." In describing Palin's strategy, Dash uses the term code-switching, which is linguistics jargon for the use of multiple languages or dialects when addressing different audiences:
Where John McCain used the phrase "straight talk" in his 2000 campaign to represent the idea of telling the unvarnished truth, without regard to the actual grammar of the statements themselves, Palin has changed the meaning of the phrase slightly. In her formulation, "straight talk" is not so much about the clarity of the points being made, but rather a signifier of the dialect in which she is offering up her talking points.
(In related news, a friend of mine picks up extra cash reading fortune-telling cards for tourists at San Francisco's Pier 39. That's right: I pal around with Tarotists.)