Is “Lying SOB” a Word That Works?

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Double Rainbow

Now that I no longer listen to Rush as I drive, I am usually pretty calm as I listen to the radio. The other night, however, I tuned in to Terry Gross with Frank Luntz explaining Words That Work from Fresh Air and by the time I reached home, I was screaming at the radio.

For those unfamiliar with the state of the science of semantics, Frank Luntz is the guy who has changed the way politicians & pundits (Republicans and their imitators) use words. He wrote a book called Words that Work about those words that resonate with people, words and phrases that make them feel (or not feel) a certain way and that make them do (or not do) a certain thing. He has a company that delivers this “clarity & simplicity of language” to politicians in other nations and corporations. He uses a sophisticated array polling, focus groups and research to determine what messages are going to have a certain result.

Luntz gives the example of “death tax” and says that if you call it “estate tax”, about 50% of people want to get rid of it. If it’s “inheritance tax”, 60% want to see it gone. If it’s “death tax”, 70% are opposed. The difference between Dallas/Dynasty/Trump/Perot style estates and “we’re all going to die someday” is the reason. Terry points out that it is actually a tax on estates in excess of $2 million. Luntz goes after her saying “what triggers the tax?”, implying that it really is a tax on dying as opposed to being a tax on dying with a $2 million estate.

I can (more or less) let that slide as I am unclear how the State has a right to rifle the pockets of even the most well-heeled corpses, but the next one popped just about every blood vessel in my body. Terry moves on to Luntz’s recommendation to Republicans to talk about “exploration” versus “drilling” in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He says that “drilling” evokes dirty, messy oil wells while “exploration” sounds cleaner and more modern. Then he says that when he shows people photos of what the activity in ANWR looks like, 90% say it looks like exploration and argues that we should call it what it looks like. He actually says: “If 90% of Americans look at a photo and say ‘that’s exploration’, who am I to say it’s drilling?” Right. We should get rid of all these meddlesome “facts” and start going with people’s impressions of reality. From the GUT, people.

The photo above makes me think of pristine, unspoiled wilderness and was taken by Jim M. Goldstein. You can view a whole ton of photos and commentary from his two week camping trip in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at his website.


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