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  • Writer's picturesonnyholmes

Translation please

It's commonly called dog whistle politics. That means it's a language that when spoken communicates one thing to the broader general audience but another to a targeted sub-group receiving it. So, when President Trump said he was going to drain the swamp, he was telling voters that he was going to clean up the mess in government. The people in Congress and the vast bureaucracy heard that they were slimy and gross and that he was going after them. This language is an analogy of a dog whistle, which can be heard by the sensitive ears of a canine and usually not by humans. It's interesting to note what statisticians and researchers call "the dog whistle effect", the way pollsters play on dog whistle coding to shape their questions and our answers. The things is, in our world most of us aren't schooled in this dialect. As a result, we often don't really know what the politicians are saying.

So, today there are code words, legalease, polispeak, newspeak, psychobabble, Hollywoodrant, eduspeak, eldespeak, morphology, and even churchspeak. Every faction and sub-group of our population has it's own unique vocabulary. Ask any of my boomer cohort what the word "app" means. Shoot, it's not a computer application. It's a doctor's appointment. Which further affirms that owning a regular old dictionary or thesaurus is no longer sufficient to guide us through the metrics of language. Thankfully there's the search button on our devices that can help us unravel the mysteries of modern talk as long as the IT people are up on their game.

Recently a popular TV interviewer hit the streets. He was asking people political questions. He asked one young man his presidential candidate preference. He easily declared his dislike for Mr. Trump. When pressed for a reason he said, among other things, that Trump was a misogynist. So, the interviewer moved to the next level and asked him what that meant. He said Mr. Trump didn't understand the mission of the President of the United States. Whew! Glad he cleared that up! But, I get it. We do a lot of talk and listening to things we don't understand.

Language matters. Understanding it may even be more significant. The Apostle Paul emphasized the importance of clarity when communicating and why language is so important in human relationships. He was addressing the confusion in the church because some were expressing glossolalia, that is, unknown tongues. So, the immediate context of his words were to solve a church problem resulting from people not understanding the spiritual phenomenon of tongues. He wrote---

There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning,

but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and

the speaker a foreigner to me.

1 Corinthians 14:10-11, ESV

Translation please? A powerful life truth. People will remain foreigners with each other when they don't know the meaning of their language.

And, of course, that's part of the stress and anxiety of this time in our national life. Everybody seems to be speaking a different language, even those spiritual leaders whose communication should be plain and clear. People say one thing, the recipients hear another, and the dog whistle effect produces still another. Taking things in context, out of context, at one level, still another, hearing a code word and thinking something different are just complications of our world. That's the deal with a lot of our political language too, especially the code words used by both the left and right. The outcome is fake or alternative news, inflamed passions, irritated factions, and often riotous behavior.

The solution? It's a hard one. There's the reality of "the human element", that is, the sinful nature of man which constantly thrusts all of us into the quagmire of words and phrases and meanings. If history is to be our teacher we're headed down a road that isn't a slippery slope anymore but a vast chasm. One thing I do, at least once a week is, visit the Urban Dictionary @ in an effort to stay abreast of changes in our vocabulary. At the same time, I recommend looking up any word that you don't know.This is as easy as a Google search.

Even more, I'm reminded of what Jesus said to his disciples. in a time of frank and honest preparation he said---

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and

innocent as doves.

Matthew 10:16, ESV

Wise as serpents so that the whistle power of language doesn't beckon a wolf that will eat us alive.

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