What Republicans Really Mean When They Say... | Opinion

When you're studying Western languages, you'll find there are many similarities between them. Some Romance languages are almost dialects of the same source material, and there's a lot of shared vocabulary—thank you ancient Romans!

And it's terrific when this shared vocabulary allows us to understand each other. The better we can get our wonderful thoughts across, the greater the chance for togetherness and peace—right?

But there's one thing every kid in language class will complain about, and that's "false friends." These are tricky words in two or more languages that sound the same, and/or are spelled the same, but have different or even opposite meanings. The problem for our country is there are now many "false friends" inside American English. These words sound the same, but the differences in meaning can be striking.

Here are just a few examples:

Gerrymander:

Democrats: Barring state or national reform in creating fairer districts, try to grab as many seats for your party as possible in state legislatures and in Congress.

Republicans: Try to ensure a minority of voters has a lock on government for eternity by disenfranchising anyone who disagrees with a Protestant evangelical agenda, and Black people regardless of religious belief.

Eligible voter:

Democrats: Anyone who matches the constitutional description (alive, over 18, and a citizen) of a voter.

Republicans: A cross-section of Americans, regardless of age (preferably on the older side of 30); Sex (preferably cis male or cis female, though right-thinking trans people can apply—don't get your hopes up); Religion (as long as you're evangelical and preferably Protestant); Race (though Whites remain preferred); And, most importantly, think the sun shines from the souls of such soulless beings as Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.

Free and fair election:

Democrats: An election in which all eligible voters are allowed—nay, encouraged—to participate.

Republicans: An election in which all eligible voters are allowed—nay, encouraged—to participate.

Democracy:

Democrats: The results of a free and fair election.

Republicans: The results of an election you agree with.

Transition of Power

Democrats: The smooth transfer of government from one group that has won a free and fair election to another, regardless of the parties involved.

Republicans: Hunh? And if you don't like the party that won the free and fair election, violence is encouraged, if only tacitly.

Theocracy:

Democrats: The dreaded results of decades of somnolence, infighting, and playing by rules that no longer exist for the other team. This is exemplified by—but not limited to—the end of Roe v. Wade.

Republicans: The wished-for results of decades of plotting to undermine much of what the country has stood for. This is exemplified by—but not limited to—the end of Roe v. Wade.

The OED
A row of Oxford English dictionaries sit in a school classroom. Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

With all of these "false friends," we are clearly experiencing a form of linguistic drift. Unfortunately, it seems to be taking the country with it.

This is the part of the essay where I argue for us all to come together and to understand each other. To knit our language back together.

I'm no longer sure that's appropriate. There are examples through history of people who understood each other perfectly well, but verses of kumbaya did not break out. In the United States, the good guys fight with ballots, not bullets (it's part of how you can tell they're good guys). They don't storm the Capitol; they just vote for the people who work there.

It's little enough, but it's what we've got. Civil War 2.0 is unthinkable and, hopefully, not inevitable. There's not much daylight left, but maybe there's just enough for us to see our way to overwhelming victory in November.

And we need overwhelming victories if we want to cling to our definitions of what this country means and why we live here beyond accident of birth.

Win on the local level to ensure the most basic protections of civil rights.

Win on the state level to ensure that it remains possible to win on the state level, to break through legislatures that might as well be rubber-stamp parliaments for the right-wing agenda.

Win on the federal level to ensure that the Supreme Court is packed with the forces of democracy—not theocracy—as defined above.

If you don't turn out in droves—and I do mean droves—it'll be the Republicans printing all the dictionaries used in our classrooms and newsrooms, offices and homes. Anyone trying to use good old Merriam-Webster will be just muttering to themselves.

Jason Fields is a deputy opinion editor at Newsweek.

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer's own