Terrorist — and other failing epithets


Once things are on your mind they are hard to let go. Like the diminishing meaning of perfectly good epithets.

Terrorist comes to mind. Time was, we all knew what a terrorist was. A person who used violence against the state to achieve political ends. These ends were often vague but the acts were generally focused. Bombs thrown or bullets fired usually at public figures in order to destabilize the state and bring about, as they so nicely put it now, regime change. It was common throughout history — the assassination of Caesar in a public place was meant to instill terror and change the political order in Rome. It did, though not quite in the way the perpetrators intended. The assassination of the Archduke that precipitated World War I was also a deliberate act of terror — though it succeeded more from good luck than good planning.

Terror of course was always used by groups trying to liberate their countries from what they viewed as foreign oppressors — the Irish, various wars of African liberation — because they had few other tools. I recall the Goon Show skit where Prince Phillip greets a newly minted President (who is clutching him by the throat) with: “I used to think you were a terrorist, now I know you were a freedom fighter.

Now of course everyone is a terrorist. Not just people who deliberately murder politicians or civilians to upset the social order but essentially anyone who takes a disruptive action against the established powers that be. If you refuse to play in their ball park by their rules you are a terrorist. For example, people who burn GMO crops or spike trees are eco-terrorists — possibly fair if lives are endangered— but that term has now spread to people who propose boycotts, engage in loud but non-violent demonstrations or harass corporate executives on Twitter. Maybe it’s time those CEOS grew a pair, hmm?

What about economic terrorists? Applied by the right to those who hack into banks or national security databases and by those on the left to proponents of government austerity. So-called men’s rights groups view feminism as a form of terrorism if the feel threatened by their actions — as legal and as peaceful as those might be. More people who need to man-up.

I could go on and talk about fascists and assholes — two more insults that have lost power from overuse.

But that’s ten minutes.


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