Common Word Salad

February 22, 2011

Sometimes it makes fun to play with language and to write text that is ludicrous, bizarre, grotesque, odd. Like:

Nothing pointed to the possibility that there could ever be an indication or that there could ever be the realization that compelling reasons for completely abandoning common sense would emerge. But the abandoning of common sense is now an ever more common occurrence in this fast changing world with its artificial environment, that we built ourselves, and its virtual reality, that we created ourselves.

In this world, where selfishness and greed are the driving forces of humanity, common sense has become an outdated notion which has only historical significance and no actual practical meaning.

Whatever I may write now or in future, I have to reluctantly and grudgingly admit, that my writing never will reach the level of absurdity, ludicrousness, silliness, and folly of political speeches. I admire these guys, who are capable of making the most ridiculous and nutty statements while keeping a straight face. Or should I rather pity them, considering the possibility, that the ridiculous and nutty statements could be a manifestation of schizophasia (word salad)?

I will refrain from discussing mental health aspects here because it would lead me too far away from the original intended theme of the blog post. I refer interested readers to http://www.imedix.com/schizophasia and reduce the consideration of this matter to one question: Why is schizophasia in political speeches not treatable?

Answer: It is not treatable, because it is intentionally produced nonsense and not real schizophasia. The kind of common word salad, which is now the main content of political speeches only serves to disguise and mislead, blur and obscure the real state of affairs to avoid the danger of public resentment against, and outrage about the fact of flagrant and shameless enrichment of the ruling elite and the correlated fact, that basic needs and grievances of the general population are neglected.

There were times when speech writers had to go to great length and expend great effort to disguise and mislead, blur and obscure the real state of affairs. Many of the speeches that originated in these times were rhetorical masterpieces with ambivalent meanings that could be interpreted by the audience in different ways and with hidden messages that were only decodable be chosen minorities.

The speeches used sophisticated psychological tricks and often had an intricate and complex composition that lead or even forced the audience through an emotional roller coaster ride, using anadiplosis or the steady increase of tensions resulting consequently into a climax plus the successive relieve and salvation.

The speeches were using words and phrases that evoked certain emotions and associations in the mind of most listeners when the actual meaning in the context of the text was completely different. For instance the word “hope” will most certainly induce positive feelings in everyone, as will the words “greatness”, “dignity”, “freedom”, “justice”. Speakers can use these words without making any actual commitment and nevertheless raise the sympathy level of the audience towards them and towards their cause.

The least mentioned technique is still employed in todays speeches, though the inflationary use and abuse of words and phrases with high sympathy levels has made the audiences numb and apathetic and greatly reduced the effectiveness of positive connoted words and catch phrases.

The general population is not only numb and apathetic against buzzwords and catch phrases, but increasingly against any kind of political expressions. The constant bombardment with information (the so called “information overflow”), the steadily increasing background noise, interruptions and distractions by electronic gadgets and the increasing complexity of modern life are confusing and disorienting and have left many citizens indifferent, dazed, lethargic and detached from political life.

And this is exactly what the political leaders want!

The speeches have not anymore to be rhetorical masterpieces with complex structures, they don’t have to include advanced psychology, they don’t have to connect and relate the words in brilliant and ingenious ways — making every linguist gasp in astonishment. It is enough when the speeches contain some common catch phrases and popular slogans for the home constituency, the rest of the speech can be filled with word salad.

Because of this development fewer speechwriter are needed, they don’t have to be highly qualified and the politicians need to use less of their well earned bribes and kickbacks for speechwriters and they can instead buy bigger yachts and luxury homes.


The deliberate and carefully planned destruction of public education and the vilification of teachers is another scheme to achieve an indifferent and lethargic population that is not able to scrutinize and critically observe or maybe even challenge the ruling elite.

Ever since I started following the American public discourse I was appalled by the level of vitriol and hate against teachers. This is troubling for me, because I am a teacher and I feel sorry for my colleagues, who are denounced, castigated, stigmatized, and “free game”.

This constant assault on teachers and public education, spearheaded by Charlotte Iserbyt and other right wing education experts tries to make sure, that education in future will only be affordable for wealthy families and that the schools will only produce citizens who are indoctrinated with conservative and religious beliefs and who are incapable of critical thinking. A Gallup poll in December revealed that 40 percent of Americans believe in creationism, only 16 percent believe in evolution.

As I am reviewing articles, posts, and comments on the internet it becomes obvious that these efforts are already bearing fruits. Thoughtful and intelligent statements are increasingly mixed with complete nonsense. Even for me as a non native speaker, struggling with the subtleties of a foreign language, it is evident that the quality of the various deliberations, reflections, confabulations, musings, rants, and pamphlets is declining.

And the intellectual quality of political speeches is declining in parallel. Obamas last “State of the Union” address was embarrassing, to say it mildly, and the statements of the US administration to recent developments in the Arab world, especially the comments of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were unbelievable dumb, imbecilic, daft — I’m running out of words which could accurately describe the intellectual quality of the statements.

And as I am finally running out of words it seems to be a good idea to close down with two references to blog posts where I also played frivolous language games:
As I write down word after word

While looking around for inspirations to this text, I stumbled across two lovely palindromes:
Step on no pets (especially not on the tails and paws of my cats).
Rats live on no evil star (if only they would stop the rat race).


It becomes more and more apparent now that the US authorities not only wage a war against terrorism, but also a war against teachers and public education. 80,000 citizens in Madison, Wisconsin protested against governor Scott Walker’s budget bill, which proposes to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees. The bill is especially directed at teachers unions. Another proposal in Walkers budget involves splitting the University in Madison from the rest of the state’s university system, a measure that could substantially increase tuition fees. Graduate student assistants, who teach 85 percent of discussion sections and 20 percent of the lectures on the Madison campus would lose benefits and their ability to bargain over tuition remission. Public education in general is expected to be reduced by nearly 500 US$ annually per student. The plan would devastate Wisconsin’s public education system, cutting an estimated 12,000 jobs and force schools to cram up to 60 students into one classroom.

Detroit is closing half of the cities public schools. According to the latest plans the public education system will shrink to 72 schools for a projected 58,570 students in 2014, which would mean an average class size of more than 60 students.

Providence, Rhode Island
The Providence school department notified teachers Tuesday that all of its 1,926 teachers may be dismissed due to a 40 million US$ deficit. Superintendent Tom Brady said, that not all of these teachers will be dismissed, but the city’s dire financial situation has made it necessary to issue these notices in an abundance of caution.



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