Monday, May 26, 2014

Polarizing Words

At a post-concert reception last February I had the chance to meet a couple who don't often attend early-music performances. In fact, I think it was their first time. In the middle of our conversation the husband used a word which caught me off guard.

During the intermission, I had announced the release of EUBO's latest CD as well as explained the current financial challenges facing the orchestra. The EU's budget had been passed too late for the granting agency to set goals for the next five-year cycle and submissions were necessarily delayed. Much of EUBO's existence depends on EU funding since the orchestra has never really been beholden, for obvious reasons, to any specific town or city and the threat of a delay in the release of operating funds was adding a lot of stress to everyone involved at the time. (There is a fundraising campaign going on at the moment to try and alleviate any issues during the interim before the funds are released in October. If you are interested in making a donation you can check that out here.)

It was no surprise that this was a hot-topic during the reception. Being the ambassador for the orchestra that evening I was responsible for giving the details of the situation to those interested and it was during this explanation with the couple mentioned above where I stumbled into a conundrum. In mid-sentence, before I had the chance to say the word "funding", the husband interjected with his own term: "handout". At the time I didn't know how to react so I ignored it and didn't let any analysis usurp the space allotted for vital PIN numbers in my brain. Since last night, however, it hasn't left me alone. 

The couple were pleasant to talk to and their support of our ensemble's efforts was very much appreciated. The interjection, however, bit me as both mildly ironic and disturbing. These perfectly normal people displayed how effectively the conservative corporate media's attacks on definitive Canadian traditions have influenced the average Canadian.

Generally, the language thrown around most newspaper editorials when discussing issues relating to public spending has taken a nose dive in recent years. Granted, some arguments focused on good governance might not be unfounded, but the most compelling writers and thinkers have no need for that spiteful terminology which we know all too well. Terms like 'freeloading', 'handouts', 'lazy', 'trim the fat', 'bloated', etc. are making inroads in Canadian newspapers along with the opening up of fundamental public services for debate. Those populist republican-esque appeals trumpeted by the wealthy might well be considered for the looney bin up here if they weren't given the stamp of their corporate employers. The power isn't in the smoke that they blow, though, it's in their choice of words and their mindless repetition. Maybe there was no subversive intent on the introduction of 'handout' to our conversation that night, but the word itself comes with much more baggage with it than 'funding' does and someone somewhere is licking their lips at the progress these substitutions are making as they slip into the vernacular.

Those kind of words divide us so effortlessly no matter what the intent behind them. I could have taken umbrage that evening and, in the end, what would that have gotten me? Two less patrons most likely.

Let's not let anyone put words in our mouth.

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