Speech Tip: Control Your Language (About the PETA Meme)
Language is power. I’m not the first to say it. I better not be the last. Control the language and control the people. Politicians know this, as do activist groups, cults, and dictators.
That’s one reason speechwriters are hired by the most influential people and organizations in the world. And that’s why we understand Adolf Hitler, David Koresh, and Charles Manson all had incredible language faculties.
With Hitler, he not only understood the power of redefining language, but he also was an amazingly effective elocutionist. That is, he gave an impressive speech.
So did Martin Luther King, Jr. He drew from the English language’s best and used their words and his own, to fight racism, from white nationalists to the KKK to the armchair Archie Bunker type racist.
Hitler and King had that in common even as one essentially fought for death and evil and the other fought for life and good.
Look at any of modern history’s major leaders and you’ll recognize well-written and well-delivered speeches.
Björk, the Iceland singer, sings in her song, “”:
Start your own currency
Make your own stamp
Protect your language
When she dedicated this song to Kosovo’s declaration of independence, to Tibet, Catalonia, and the Faroe Islands, she met rebuke. China, which is famously willing to shut down a freedom of speech against Tibet, said she was trying “threaten national unity” and “whip up ethnic hatred.” What they really meant was they wanted to control the language of their people by denying other ideas having an opportunity to affect change. Control.
Even in recent news, we see PETA attempting to change common cliches. PETA wants you to say phrases like “Don’t beat a dead horse,” with replacement phrases like, “Feed a fed horse.” They don’t ask. They start their meme: “Stop Using Anti-Animal Language.”
Words matter, and as our understanding of social justice evolves, our language evolves with it. Just as it would be unacceptable to use racist, homophobic, or ableist language, phrases that trivialize cruelty to animals will vanish as more people begin to appreciate animals for who they are and start “bringing home the bagels” instead of the bacon.
They are direct about it: They want to tell you what words you can say. They want to control my language and yours. Some will call it persuasion and others will call it manipulation, but it is both and it is neither. Ultimately, they are looking to use persuasion and manipulation to control.
Is it a good strategy? Some will mock them. Some will embrace them. And people like me will analyze them. Whether they end up controlling the language of the common person is yet to be seen, but it is great press and an excellent fundraising technique. Realistically, as they are guided by expert strategists, this may be all they want. They are risk though, that their core supporters tell them they went too far and pull back from being part of the fold.
Language is complicated. Be in control of yours. Be mindful of the words you use and the words others would have you use.
Let me help you control your words. Contact me.