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Talking Power, The Politics of Language.

How can a joke that's funny in one culture be an insult in another? Can women who use men's language win an election in which males outvote women? The advertising world manipulates us mercilessly with language, and politicians succeed in having themselves reelected despite atrocious performances in office.

Dr. Lakoff argues that anyone who is skilled enough to create a web of words can entice and ensnare us because of our innate desires to be liked, to control our lives and to avoid pain. The skillful user of words can promise us all of this, not deliver and yet come back to make even more believable promises.

The author says that despite our common language, there are nuances and special meanings. She refers to the language of law: visit a courtroom and listen to the professionals. If you take their words literally you will not understand them at all. Doctors speak differently to patients than to their staff and in an essentially separate language at home to spouse and children.

A funny story may bring forth laughter from men and women equally, but you can be certain they are laughing for different reasons. A Freudian interpretation would perceive the subject of the joke to be the female's inadequacy, or reduced power in the male's perception. For the female, laughter might be evoked by viewing the story's punch line as a revelation of the male's not-so-macho ending.

The author considers language politics because politics assigns power and power governs how people talk and are understood. Moreover, she says, the analysis of language from this point of view is a survival skill.

Ronald Reagan had his critics, among them were those who begrudgingly acknowledged him to be "the great communicator." The former president was able to allay fears, quiet impatience and outdistance critics with the power of language. The words were neither celestial nor deeply moving.

Slogans can be words that hypnotize, that have the effect of making an unprovable statement seem logical. Guns don't kill people, the National Rifle Association likes to say, people kill people. Words don't change reality, Lakoff notes, but, like guns, words make it possible for people to achieve the effects they seek.

People drag themselves to hospitals, clinics and to doctors in the hope that their pain will be alleviated. Words emblazoned in their minds keep them returning despite the failure of treatments: pain must be attended. the more agonizing the "health care," the more bitter the medicine, the more the patient's hopes rise. Belief is language enshrined.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Words:422
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