Viral Falsehoods

The English language—no, the American language—has a “don’t fence me in” style. In the soil of the American language, any word can become invasive. I remember thinking, when I first heard the expression “a fun party,” that it had happened so fast. [1]

This morning’s example is political, but I’m not concerned about the politics today. It’s just the words.

In the New York Times for August 15, Davey Alba wrote this sentence. “Here are three false rumors about Ms. Harris that continue circulating widely online.”

Not only is that a perfectly good sentence, but I might almost call it conservative. I am thinking of his choice of “widely” rather than “with blinding speed” or some such hyperbolic description.

Virus 1Then the headline writers took over and we got this: Debunking Three Viral Falsehoods about Kamala Harris. Note that these are “viral falsehoods.” [2] The falsehoods are viral. And I thought, as I once thought about the fun party, “Wow! That happened fast.”

What was once an analogy to how quickly they spread is now a comment on their nature. Just sitting there in the petri dish, this falsehood is viral. If it never spread to anything ever, it would still be that kind of falsehood. It is viral.

I think that process is: a) deplorable, b) fully American, and c) a real loss to clear communication.

[1] There are some who will maintain that I have no right to complain. I make up words as I find a need for them, but I do it only when there is a need and I never ever accept money for performing that service. I routinely use “maleficiary,” for instance, to contrast with beneficiary. And why not? For any given public policy, some are advantaged and some are unadvantaged. And still others are disadvantaged. You see how helpful that is?
[2] Viral in the sense of “become suddenly widely popular through internet sharing” is attested by 1999, originally in reference to marketing and based on the similarity of the effect to the spread of a computer virus.” That’s from etymonline,.com. The computer virus is, of course, a reference to an actual virus, a parasite that “circulates widely,” to borrow Davey Alba’s cautious phrasing, and quickly.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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