Sunday, November 29, 2015


Language gets fuzzy sometimes; the literal form of a statement can be perfectly true, but the subtext is objectionable. Take the "Black Lives Matter" slogan. Yep, how can you doubt it? And it references a real problem with policing. But what a lot of us hear is an unspoken "no matter what we do." When Michael Brown is the poster child for BLM, how could it be otherwise?

Another slogan circulating is "We should have picked our own cotton." On the face of it, how can you doubt it? It would have avoided centuries of oppression and injustice, or at any rate changed the oppressions to more tractable versions. But the subtext is the unspoken "and then you wouldn't be here to bother us." Not exactly a peace-making gesture...

Slogans with magic words like "equality" usually have unexamined subtexts--and often, thanks to the power of magic words, unexamined face meanings as well.

I believe sloganeers intend the subtexts; they loudly object to anybody trying to parse their meanings. I'm not sure the crowd of slogan repeaters always does; perhaps they would listen to discussion if phrases like "subtext" didn't sound so academic and speculative. Subtext matters just like tone of voice does, and we all know how you can say all the right words with a tone that contradicts the words. The phrase just sounds wishy-washy, as though you're trying to avoid the issues. Does anybody have a beefier way to say "subtext" or "implied meaning?" Besides the usual way of asserting that anybody who seems to disagree with you is a despicable villain, that is.

1 comment:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Very Uncle Screwtape, reminding Wormwood that everyone intends maximum offense while maintaining maximum deniability.

Where it falls apart is denying that none of your people intend the bad meaning, but all of your opponents do.