Thursday, June 12, 2008


Interesting post by Andrew Sullivan, in which he responds to a reader who dislikes Sullivan's use of the term "empire." Without getting into the specifics of the post itself (Sullivan pretty well captures my thinking on this, and I still think we need to put ourselves into other people's heads - how would we feel if Canada decided to garrison some troops in Wichita, no matter how noble the stated reason?), I'm fascinated that so much of the argument concerns the term.

Without getting into Sapir or Whorf or Saussure here, there are times when we really do frame our arguments based on the words we have. Maybe our presence in Iraq is not the expression of empire, but it's something, and a lack of a word for it should not (but often does) constrain our discussion.

I had a similar experience about a month ago when a post of mine received fairly harsh comments from a reader over the term "recession." That many people in this country are hurting seems to me of far more importance than the term we use to describe it, but, to this one reader, the way to cast aspersions on my idea was to point out that the term was not wholly accurate.

So we have a presence in Iraq that isn't quite an empire, and we have an economic situation that isn't quite a recession. Can we find new words for these concepts, or, barring that, discuss them on the merits rather than worrying about which term applies?

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