The language of freedom

By Katie Botkin
Reader Contributor

Would you be shocked if I told you that conservatives and liberals speak different languages, in an almost literal sense? It’s true. There are certain words and phrases each group uses that are entirely foreign to the other — and just for example, many so-called “Antifa” posters circulating around the internet calling for violence were easily spotted as fake for this reason. 

Additionally, conservatives and liberals use the same words to mean opposite things. Although they use the same dictionaries — standard U.S. English — the context and subtext of the words are vastly different. Conservatives use words to speak about top-down authoritarianism and duty, and liberals use the same words to talk about individual self-determination. 

Consider the word “sovereign,” for example. Conservatives often say that “God is sovereign,” and leftists talk about their “sovereign bodies” during meditation retreats. Conservatives tend to see sovereignty as being handed down to the chosen people; liberals talk about sovereignty as belonging to Indigenous nations or to individuals.

Additionally, words like “antifascist,” “power,” “obedience,” “constitutional” and even “love” are used differently in different circles. “Thug” might be code for “Black guy” or it might — somewhat tongue in cheek — mean “police in riot gear.” “Anarchist” might mean “violent looter” or “person committed to feeding the homeless,” depending on who you ask.

The word “violence” itself means different things to different groups of people. The phrase, “We practice non-violence,” is likely to proceed to different ideas, depending on your political leanings. Choose your own adventure:

Far right: “… only if we’re cucks.”

Traditional conservative: “… until you push us too far.”

Traditional liberal: “… because love is always the answer.”

Far left: “… because dismantling the tools of oppression is non-violence.”

Another example comes from the claim that, “If you don’t love our country and our freedom, you’re a traitor and don’t deserve to be here.” 

Of course, everyone loves freedom — saying “you don’t love freedom” is akin to saying “you don’t love oxygen.” However, in this context, “freedom” is a stand-in word for “loyalty,” or perhaps, “the previous amount of people who have been killed overseas fighting in our uniforms, and the ones who will probably die if we deploy more of them.” 

This is the antithesis of how the word is used in leftist circles. If we were going to write accurate definitions for how the different groups use the words, it would be something like this:

Freedom (conservative)

1. Under constant threat of being lost if the other party wins.

2. Gained by soldiers fighting overseas.

3. Ingrained in American ideology since the inception of America.

4. Associated with sacrifice, loyalty, and death.

Freedom (liberal)

1. Your innate state of being.

2. Gained primarily by domestic struggle against oppression: civil rights, literal emancipation, etc.

3. More present now for a wider variety of people than in 1776.

4. Associated with self-expression and self-determination.

In a nutshell, “Freedom is won by heroes,” conjures up different images in the minds of conservatives and liberals — either a bloody Marine charging into battle or someone like Rosa Parks, refusing to budge.

Which is more historically accurate? Well, traditionally, freedom included freedom of thought. For more than 1,000 years, dating back to when it was pronounced “freodom,” the word referred to self-determination, free will. It is highly unusual for a word to maintain such a strong single definition for a millennium, and in the Old English form we see the emancipation that centuries of slaves dreamed of. 

At a minimum, freedom means being able to formulate your own opinions. It means, for example, that it’s impossible to be classified a traitor merely for disagreeing with the government. If you can be a traitor for disliking the choices of the ruling class, then by definition, we aren’t in a free country; we’re in a dictatorship where the First Amendment no longer applies.

Yes, people have died to maintain the literal freedom of the United States. The last time that happened was in World War II, when a loud-mouthed dictator insisted on his God-given right to invade other countries and make war on inferior races. 

Adolf Hitler was supported by his countrymen — the ones singing their love for their own people and their country, as well as their keen displeasure with past hardships. Hitler was also supported by the quiet ones who just went along with it. 

Katie Botkin is a linguist and the editor-in-chief of MultiLingual magazine, which covers language and culture around the world.

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.