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Whose Words These Are I Think I Know

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer

News broke this week that basketball star LeBron James wants to copyright the phrase “Taco Tuesday.” This comes months after Kim Kardashian wanted to copyright the word “kimono,” and fifteen years after President Trump tried to copyright “You’re fired!” because it was his signature line on The Apprentice reality show.

Never mind that “Taco Tuesday” is already copyrighted by several taco restaurants that actually sell tacos, that “You’re fired!” is as old as the labor market, and that copyrighting “kimono” is perhaps the zaniest recent example of cultural appropriation typically despised by liberals.

These aren’t even the most egregious examples of trying to copyright or trademark ordinary words or things. Cadbury fought for years to trademark its particular shade of purple. Syracuse University tried in 2011 to trademark both the color and the word “orange.” Ohio State this year attempted to trademark the word “the” because if you listen to former players proclaiming their alma mater for TV lineups it is “THE Ohio State University.”

But those failed attempts can’t hold a candle to successful trademarks, like “Super Bowl” (don’t even think about saying those words together in February!) and really common words like Bubble Wrap, Realtor, Jet Ski, Crock-Pot, Velcro, and Ping-Pong. Even singing “Happy Birthday to You” required one to pay a licensing fee until 2016.

There is a certain irony in claiming copyright over a commonly used phrase in light of the postmodern view that all truth is relative and words and meanings are merely socially constructed. The whole field of intellectual property law depends on words having defined meanings and usages. Of course those meanings are sometimes contested, but the fact that two sides in a debate or a lawsuit argue over the meaning of words is based on the shared assumption that one meaning or the other is actually true.

In the same way that the Obamas buying beachfront property on Martha’s Vineyard gives the lie to the liberal argument about rising sea levels, the fact that elites want to copyright common phrases suggests that they agree with the lawyers that words actually have meaning. But words only have the meaning that liberals want them to have, when it suits them.

Liberals have managed to twist the meaning of many words. Disagreement is hate. Everyone who might be racist is a Nazi. Saying “I apologize” is now a microaggression (though how one apologizes for that, nobody can explain). A draft “inclusive language guide” at Colorado State University would have discouraged staff and students from saying the word “America.” The Democratic Party has declared that “religious liberty” actually means violating the civil rights of others. Global warming is now “climate change.” Illegal aliens are simply “undocumented immigrants.” Murdering the unborn is “reproductive health.”

We shouldn’t be surprised at the battles raging over how we use words. The English language is composed of over 170,000 words, many of which we “appropriated” from other cultures. New words are added to our lexicon every year, and old words are forgotten and fall out of usage. But there is something more sinister going on.

What liberals have done to language is right out of George Orwell’s 1984. They have brought Newspeak to real life. Liberals want certain words to mean what they say they mean, even if that’s not what the words mean at all. Orwell explains what they are doing:

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.” (Orwell 52).

What liberals want when they attack free speech and the very meaning of words is this:  to eliminate freedom of thought and conscience, by defining out of existence the words that express ideas with which they disagree. Soon we may need to expand the Second Amendment to include the right to bear a dictionary.

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