I have said this before but, I love the way that language can be used to manipulate the way people think about something. Take, for example, the way that people who have entered a country though means other than the official channels have been described before and after the recent U.S. Presidential election.
Prior to election day, during the campaign, these individuals were routinely referred to as “Illegal Immigrants.” And following election day, in particular in connection with the #sanctuarycampus protests, they are being called “Undocumented Immigrants.”
Both descriptions are factually accurate. Entering a country in ways other than the proper channels, for example sneaking across a land border or stowing away on a sea-going vessel, is very much an illegal act and leads to the individual not having the appropriate documentation, like a visa, and thereby being ‘undocumented’.
But the two words used here are meant to make the listener/reader think and feel different things about those being described. “Illegal” is clearly a bad thing. Its usage is designed to make one consider these people in a harsh light. They are criminals. They are ‘cheating the system’.
Whereas “Undocumented” is a much softer description. Its use is designed to make you think that those being described are not bad people, they haven’t really done anything wrong, they just don’t have the right paperwork.
And yet, both words remain factually accurate descriptors of the people in this situation – that being, people who have not used the proper channels to enter a country. Keep in mind, this isn’t even a descriptor of refugees, because refugees entering a country do so legally and will have appropriate documentation.
The choice of descriptor tells you as much about the people choosing to use it as the people being described – if you’re able to look past the rhetoric and no be manipulated by the power of the chosen descriptor, that is.
Language. It’s fascinating. And it’s one of the reason I choose to write. I love being able to manipulate what people think and feel through my choice of words. I guess what separates me from the political class is that I do it for entertainment, yours as much as mine, while they do it for “other reasons”.