No my Australian friends, this note is not about slang in the Australian outback. It is about some of the slang words introduced to and promoted by the US media by the Bush administration, slang which we still hear and probably will continue hearing for a few more years.
I’m not talking about the Bushisms like, “Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.” I’m talking about what, with remarkable clarity, falls under the rubric of “slang”. Why do I think so?
According to my essay, “What is Slang,” ”Slang is a code in which one vaguely related or unrelated word or phrase is substituted for a more common one.” It is a set of words that identifies the speaker with a particular social or occupational group, especially a group of youths, but members of a puerile administration fit the pattern just as well.
I suspect whoever dreamed up these terms thought that they were clever marketing terms that would becloud if not completely hide their real meanings. But they really don’t work as long-term additions to the English vocabulary.
The most persistent one as of today is rendition, a slang term for the outsourcing of torture. Of course, the US has never done this before Vice President Cheney decided it the proper course to take. But it is a cover word, as much a euphemism as slang.
Rendition, of course, is the playing of a musical piece in a specific style. It is a noun based on render, though it is seldom as ever used this way. You can render aid, render fat (which may have happened in our off-shore torture chambers), render an opinion, but I’m don’t recall seeing rendition used in any of these senses. Certainly, it doesn’t mean “outsource torture”.
So, rendition, which I only figured out last week it is so opaque, joins the misuse of surge for “reinforcements” and embed for “exclude all but friendly news reporters” in the attempts at slang of the past administration. As I have mentioned before, the most remarkable aspect of this bizarre linguistic episode of the past eight years is the US networks willing complicity in promoting this misuse of English.