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Political Word Games

When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less.”

— Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

From time to time presidential campaigns present didactic moments and this is such a time. It presents us with familiar words to which completely new meanings have been affixed by the candidates. In Mr. Trump’s case, the most recent addition to our collective vocabularies is the word “sacrifice.” In Ms. Clinton’s case, the words are “short circuit.”  We begin our scholarly, if that it be, examination of the use of those words with Mr. Trump’s use of the word “sacrifice.”

Sacrifice was often used in connection with offering the life of an animal or person to a god in hopes of gaining favor of the god for whom the sacrifice was made.  Another meaning is giving up something in order to help someone else. A person who gives up his life to protect someone else, for example, is commonly said to have sacrificed his life. A good example of this use was sadly offered at the Democratic National Convention when Khizr Khan  spoke from the podium with his wife standing beside him.  Mr. Khan was describing the heroic act of his son who acted to save the lives of men under his command.  An American Muslim, and a Captain in the United States Army, he posthumously received the Bronze Star for his brave action. Mr. Khan criticized Mr. Trump for his comments about Muslims and immigrants saying: “Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United states of America. . . . You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

Understandably Mr. Trump took umbrage at the suggestion he had sacrificed nothing, and to prove his point, gave us all a new understanding of the word “sacrifice.” Mr. Trump said: “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices.  I work very, very hard.  I’ve created thousands and thousands of job. . . built great structures.  I’ve had tremendous success.  I think I’ve done a lot.” Thus, the new meaning for sacrifice is being very successful in whatever you undertake.

Hillary Clinton has imparted new meaning to words that were commonly associated with things electrical.   The words are “Short Circuit.” “Short circuit” first entered the lexicon in its new incarnation when Ms. Clinton was discussing her use of email while serving as Secretary of State.  Although the use or misuse of her email is of no substantive importance, her attempts to consistently explain her email procedures, while serving as Secretary of State, has given the question a life of its own that far overshadows any substantive concerns over her practices.

A report in Politico describes the various things Ms. Clinton has said over the past year with respect to her e mail usage while serving as Secretary of State. It then contrasts her statements with FBI Director, James Comey’s testimony before the House Benghazi Committee in early July.  Among other things, Mr. Comey contradicted Ms. Clinton’s assertion (a) that while serving as Secretary of State she used only one device (he said she used four), (b) that she returned all work-related e mails to the state department (he said thousands were not returned), and (c) that she did not e mail “any classified material to anyone on my email” (Comey said “there was classified material emailed.”)

When Ms. Clinton was speaking to a convention of black and Hispanic journalists in Washington on August 5 2016, the e mail question once again presented itself. Ms. Clinton asserted that she did not lie to the FBI (which no one has disputed since no one knows what she said to the FBI) but then made a convoluted explanation that introduces us to the new use of the word “short circuit.”  She told the assembled journalists: “What I told the FBI-which he [Comey] said was truthful-is consistent with what I have said publicly.” That, of course, seems to be untrue when considered in the context of Mr. Comey’s testimony before the Congressional Subcommittee. Continuing her explanation to the assembled journalists she said: “I may have short circuited, and for that, I will try to clarify.” Here follows an example of how those two words can be used in common situations in which readers may, from time to time, find themselves.

Mother walks into the kitchen and her six-year-old son is standing next to a glass of spilled milk that is on the floor. When confronted by mother, son denies responsibility for the spill. Mother is very angry with son’s denial and reports it to father when father comes home from work.  Father then confronts son and asks: “Did you lie to your mother?”  Son, who is precocious and a young news junkie has been keeping up with the election news.  He responds: “I short circuited, and for that I will try to clarify.”  To that father replies: “I am greatly relieved to hear that son.  I was afraid you had lied to your mother.”

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