Monday, 31 January 2005

Word abuse of the day

Somehow, the departure of William Safire from the New York Times has led to the gratuitous misuse of language:

Participation varied by region, and the impressive national percentages should not obscure the fact that the country’s large Sunni Arab minority remained broadly disenfranchised – due to alienation or terror or both.

The word “disenfranchised” literally means deprived of voting rights. Southern blacks were disenfranchised under Jim Crow. Women were disenfranchised prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment.

By contrast, Sunni Arabs in Iraq were not disenfranchised; nobody stopped them from voting. Instead, they chose not to drag their sorry asses to the polls, for whatever reason.


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I agree that blacks were “disenfranchised” under Jim Crow, but I’m not sure how women could have been “disenfranchised” prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment. How does one become “disenfranchised” without having been “enfranchised” in the first place? IOW, don’t you have to have a voting right before anyone can deprive you of it?

Under that definition, Sunni Arabs who were afraid to get blown up – as opposed to those who felt “alienated,” lazy, or whatever – can reasonably be said to have been “disenfranchised,” albeit not by the government.


Well, there were jurisdictions that recognized the right of women to vote prior to the 19th Amendment (indeed, there were states that once recognized that right then repealed it), so that’s something of a gray area.

In any event, the Times—by signing onto the trivialization of the term “disenfranchisement” spearheaded by the American political left—does its readers a grave disservice by conflating fear of getting beheaded (which at least rises to the level of terroristic denial of voting rights) with “alienation” (sheer laziness, given the presence of parties on the ballot acceptable to Sunni sensibilities).

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