Ethics Train Wreck Update: Now The Dictionary People Have Boarded The Post-2016 Election Freakout

It’s really depressing. I did not expect to see so many professions and professionals debase themselves and their ethical principles because they couldn’t deal with the results of a presidential election. . Historians. Judges. Scientists. Professors. College presidents and administrators. Performing artists. Intelligence community professionals. Judges. Journ–well, no, that one wasn’t a surprise.

My own profession, legal ethicists, booked a seat on the ethics train wreck, a development that was profoundly disappointing. Wrote one member of the profession who has remained clear -eyed while keeping his integrity, Steve Lubet in Slate,  “As a liberal Democrat, I have no sympathy for Conway’s habitual disregard for truth. As a professor of legal ethics, however, I think this complaint is dangerously misguided and has the potential to set a terrible precedent…The professors no doubt have faith in the professionalism of the District of Columbia Office of Disciplinary Counsel, but the bar authorities in other states may not always be reliably even-handed or apolitical. It is hardly inconceivable that lawyer discipline might somewhere be used as a weapon against disfavored or minority candidates, or as a means to squelch protest movements and insurgent campaigns. In the 1940s and 1950s, suspected Communists and alleged “fellow travelers” found their law licenses in jeopardy in many states. In the 1960s and 1970s, civil rights lawyers were hauled before the bar authorities in the South. The complaint against Conway is an unfortunate step back in the direction of using lawyer discipline against political enemies….”


Now “America’s dictionary,” Merriam-Webster, has decided that it is within its mission and purview to attack and mock the President of the United States..

Almost immediately after his election, the dictionary’s editors began trolling Trump and his administration, defined, by Merriam-Webster, as “to antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant or offensive comments or other disruptive content.”

The website Acculturated has observed that on social media and its website Merriam-Webster has  ridiculed the President  “for his every spelling mistake, grammatical error, and verbal gaffe. In honor of the election, they changed their header photo to a picture of a German word defined as the “collapse of a society or regime marked by catastrophic violence and disorder.” Then they highlighted what they claimed was the word most frequently looked-up, “fascism.” On Inauguration Day, they tweeted “Welp,” a word that conveys dismay or disappointment. The company also derided Betsy DeVos, Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, and, of course, Kellyanne Conway.

This, needless to say, is not their job, their mission, or responsible professional conduct. It is, as it is for the other derailed professionals, smug virtue signalling and tribalism. Acculturated again:

[T]he dictionary’s editors are clearly partisan. They didn’t harass Hillary Clinton, and they don’t needle sports stars, celebrities, or, well . . . anyone else like they needle the President and his people.Theoretically, even that could be okay—a good, playful, occasional joke from the dictionary could have the whole country laughing. But if you mock one person too often, you start to reveal a pattern. If that pattern persists, the fun and games lose their light-hearted feel, and begin to betray bias instead.

Ya think???


“Already, the dictionary’s string of frequent, focused stings feel less like jokes and more like subtle, systematic attacks…If Merriam-Webster’s editors aren’t careful, though, they will undermine the very thing that makes their dictionary useful. An accusation of bias is (or should be) a death sentence for a dictionary. All the clever jokes in the world won’t save Merriam-Webster from a widespread perception of political partisanship—and promptly cost them half of their readers. First, they’ll lose the trust of Trump supporters, then the respect of everyone on the Right, and finally all the folks on the Left, even those who despise Trump the most.That’s because conservatives and liberals alike will reject as too Orwellian a dictionary perceived as politically charged. It will simply be too hard to convince people that cultural or political bias hasn’t seeped into and soiled the dictionary’s definitions. When it comes to lexicography, credibility depends on impartiality.

Regardless of their political opinions, Americans still expect the dictionary to be objective and neutral, even more than they expect that from the media. So at a time when trust and confidence in America’s mainstream media is practically nonexistent, why would Merriam-Webster even flirt with the appearance of partisanship?If even the dictionary loses its objectivity, it means politics in America has become entirely inescapable. That’s not just dangerous, it’s sad. It’s unhealthy. It’s not good for a society to be so permeated with politics that there is nowhere to hide.”


Incidentally, I am adding Acculturated to the Ethics Alarms links. It is an excellent, unique, thoughtful site.


Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Business & Commercial, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, language, Marketing and Advertising, Professions, Public Service, This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President, U.S. Society

26 responses to “Ethics Train Wreck Update: Now The Dictionary People Have Boarded The Post-2016 Election Freakout

  1. E2 (nee Elizabeth I)

    So the big lie has infiltrated DICTIONARIES? I can partially understand journalists allowing their biases to infiltrate their thinking, and their egotism in believing that we really care about their thinking. But a dictionary? This is truly Orwellian. I suppose if the Encyclopedia Brittanica still existed it would have the gall to list Trump under the entry for ‘fascist.’ This is really getting scary.

    My main concern is children now: when they look up a word (on line or otherwise) what do they find? Propaganda. Period. This really demeans any chance of critical thinking by an entire generation. I simply cannot believe that the Hillary-machine is willing to endanger our entire democracy out of hate and spite. Then again, maybe I can.

    • Other Bill

      E2, I wish everyone would follow your lead and stop using the sloppy, hip, misleading and easily abused term “fake news” and instead use its proper term: “propaganda.” Thank you.

      • Isaac

        It’s not even “fake” any more so much as “imaginary” now. I try to think up historical precedents for a culture at-large perpetuating a massive delusion on itself based on villainizing a particular group of people…and that never ends well.

  2. Chris Marschner

    Seems to me the word trump means to beat an inferior or weaker position with a superior or stronger tactic or strategy.

    I guess the humor was lost on the dictionary

    • Steve-O-in-NJ

      To trump means simply to defeat, as in “loyalty trumps ethics, though perhaps it shouldn’t.”

      Trump can also mean, in bridge, the suit chosen to rank above the others, which can win a trick when another suit is led with. God knows during the election I used the hashtag “play the trump card” many times to counter “feel the Bern” and “I’m with her.”

      • Chris Marschner

        Steve. I was using a common understanding such as trump card. I agree that it means to defeat. But in this context I could not help positing an “alternate” definition.

        I gotta get my plays on words down better.

  3. John Billingsley

    The word that comes to my mind to describe Merriam Webster’s dictionary is “feckless”. They define it as “weak, ineffective, worthless, irresponsible.” If the word fits, wear it.

    • Other Bill

      John, the word that comes to my mind is:

      having a harmful effect, especially in a gradual or subtle way.
      “the pernicious influences of the mass media”

      And by the way, the example is not mine, it was right there when I googled pernicious.

      I’m guessing Merriam-Webster’s online presence is being run by a bunch of Ivy Leaguers who are all under forty.

  4. I myself don’t believe anything until it’s been officially denied.

    Furthermore, IMHO, no “new” word, reference, or phrase, will make it into my personal lexicon until it has been duly recognized.

    That word, reference, or phrase will be duly recognized ONLY after it’s been entered (“spake,” if you will) into the Urban Dictionary by Zoltar Speaks!

  5. “First, they’ll lose the trust of Trump supporters, then the respect of everyone on the Right, and finally all the folks on the Left, even those who despise Trump the most.”

    “Regardless of their political opinions, Americans still expect the dictionary to be objective and neutral, even more than they expect that from the media.”

    I think that both of these statements are wildly naive. Somewhere in this nation, fortune cookies are being stuffed with thinly veiled versions of The Rules for Radicals….

  6. Mrs. Q

    Hasn’t there always been controversies regarding words, their definitions, and the authorities who classify such words and definitions for the current culture? My understanding is that several of the words we use now were defined a bit differently in say the 1920’s. Any serious Bible reader has an old dictionary or 2 around to understand how meanings of words have changed, for example.

    That being said, I’ve been done w/ MW for quite a while. Their antics are not new, just more pronounced nowadays. Funk & Wagnall’s anyone?

  7. Wayne

    I’m not really interested in using a dictionary that is created by partisan hacks and engages in newspeak. Maybe Funk and Wagnall’s is worth a try despite Dan Rowan.

    • Oh, dear, another reference dating the readership. Today I was lecturing a group of young high school musical theater actors in professional ethics. They appeared not to recognize any cultural reference older than about two years.

  8. Aside from this topic, but mentioned:
    It is hardly inconceivable that lawyer discipline might somewhere be used as a weapon against disfavored or minority candidates, or as a means to squelch protest movements and insurgent campaigns.

    When will the progressives learn that the dirty tricks they pull are fair game by the likes of Trump? Trump used typical Democrat candidate smears, lies, and tactics during the campaign, and the press did not know what to do with him. since they were not used to calling such dirty things out. He really acted like a Democrat in tone and slipperiness.

    Many in the NEW Right (Alt right seems to have taken an ominous tone) are willing to “do unto others as they have been done unto” and the Leftists have themselves to blame for it.

    • Isaac

      Astute. Trump is a Republican without the sense (or veneer at least) of morality subscribed to by traditional conservatives. If the Right goes full-relativist after the pattern of Trump, there’s no one left holding down the fort for basic decency.

  9. Rich in CT

    I almost wrote a short post about adjectives and adverbs no longer having meaning when paired with the word “immigration” in response to the Ben Carson post yesterday. (‘Illegal’ means nothing in front of “immigration”, so why should anyone be offended by the concept “non-consensual immigration” – ie, slave trade).

    It is truly not good that the people professionally in charge of documenting the language start showing explicit bias. How long until “War is Peace”? (Withdrawing our troops from Iraq is *already* defined as having made that country stronger and more resilient)…

    • Other Bill

      And of course there’s the Obama-era expansion of “workplace violence” to include “islamic terrorism.”

    • Wayne

      Besides the Arabs and the Spanish, French, English and Americans engaging in “non-consensual immigration”, the Soviet Union under Stalin and Germany under Hitler was extremely efficient at doing this. Pol Pot was even better clearing out the capital and forcing everybody that had lived there into the countryside to engage in “voluntary agricultural work”.

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