Even Grammar Bleeds


George Orwell and my fifth grade teacher said words count.  But I’m having trouble with extreme, extremist and extremism.

So vague and slippery,  What is an extremist?   A Montana neo-Nazi, or attorney general Jeff Sessions,

or illegal West Bank  (often American) settlers on Palestinian land eager to violently pull down the Israeli state, or Salman Abedi the Manchester bomber a Sunni Muslim jihadi holy warrior, or the various Chicago policemen charged with murdering blacks and Latinos, or the current president of the Phillipines who brags about personally shooting dopers and encouraging his soldiers to rape?

Help me out here.

Is there a more useful word or set of brief words that will bring to mind, actually help us see, what we’re talking about?

For Holocaust let’s say murder camps.

For “human rights violations” let’s say beheadings, castration,  strangulation or impaling.

For “leaning left” let’s say….er, um, what exactly?

“Divisive”, “polarizing”, “bipartisan”, “discourse”, “interrogate”, “hegemony” (a left fave), and the best of all “intersectionality”.  I defy any of us to say exactly what it really means as compared to this tweet to Trump, “Take your wall and shove  it up your ass.”

“Radicalization”?  It used to be us.

“Acting within  policy” – reason police chiefs give refusing to fire killer cops.

Alt: “he reached into his waistband and I feared for my life.”

“Militant” used to mean angry Temperance (anti whiskey) ax-wielding women smashing up taverns.

Then labor rebels like Mother Jones, John Reed and Joe Hill. Then marching Roe vs. Wade feminists.

Then Irish Republican gunmen.  Now, Sunni Muslim bombers.  Pity we can’t reclaim militant for us.

And what about “abuse”.  Yelling insults at?   What does it mean exactly?  If sexual, is it rape, or Bill O’reilly calling an African American employee “hot choclate”, or unwanted flirtation,  or grabbing ass and breast (the Schwartzenegger model), or a teacher drugging a student into bed, or what precisely?  If physical abuse, is it with fists, Gianforte style body slamming, a leather strap or a baseball bat?

Psychological “abuse” can be a killer – a vulnerable English boy just hanged himself because his Audi garage mechanic coworkers got on his case without mercy.  It’s harder to prove therefore important to nail down.

So let’s start with extremism.  What’s it mean and is there a better word?

Anyone please help me and George Orwell and my fifth grade teacher?

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Black Sunset