Practical definition: Ask (again)

Posted by Marc Hodak on July 20, 2011 under Practical definitions | Be the First to Comment

I don’t get the media’s willingness to accept the politician’s definition of “ask,” as in:

We’ll ask them to hand over their assets to government

We should not be asking them to make sacrifices if we’re not asking the most fortunate in our society to make some sacrifices as well.”

The first quote comes from the Zimbabwean Minister of Economic Empowerment–an Orwellian title if ever one existed–with regards to foreign owners of mines.  The second quote is U.S. President Obama discussing his hope for budget cuts and tax increases.  Each of those phrases is more honest if “ask” is substituted for “force.”

Actually, that substitution doesn’t work as cleanly in Obama’s statement.  In the first instance of “asking,” the government is taking benefits away that it currently provides; in the second instance of “asking,” the government is taking by force resources that are nominally owned by other people.  Substituting “ask” for “force, or supplanting “ask” with “from behind a gun” reveals Obama’s linguistic trick in attempting to treat these very different activities as similar.

The lesson is simple:  when I ask you to do something, or you ask me, it’s a request that either of us can refuse.  When the government “asks” you to do something, you can’t.  Of course, every mafia don will insist that a person could refuse their requests when it comes down to it, but that insistence does as much violence to the language as it does to the person who refuses.

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