Our Language Traps?

Too frequently (these days in particular) we find ourselves in language traps—situations in which we discover we have said something very different from what we meant— which end up making poor situations worse.

For example, calling oneself ‘a very stable genius ‘may indicate the opposite of what the speaker intended.  The phrase appears to be an oxymoron.  Those two words are rarely in close association for good reason. ‘Genius’ generally suggests brilliance often accompanied by volatility. ‘Stable’ tend to signals steadiness with few surprises. But we should not be too surprised to hear those two words used by an oxymoron who uttered them.

In Macbeth, the Weird Sisters say “Fair is foul, foul is fair”. What can that really mean? It seems that the world has gone topsy-turvy, that right seems wrong and wrong seems right. In today’s polarized environment, it is almost impossible to tell what a word means anymore with any great certainty. One person’s fair is another’s foul. It is relatively rare for people to parse their thoughts and words carefully enough to avoid language traps. It is even rarer that a phrase like ‘a stable genius’ gets onto the evening news several nights in a row.

Hopefully this simple observation can relieve the medical sciences of needing to perform time-consuming mental examinations to make the point clear that the President is unfit for his office.

Any person who cannot think of a better retort than to call himself “a very stable genius” is not fit for any public responsibility!

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