Have you ever noticed how the language that’s used can change a story dramatically? The next time you read the newspaper, imagine if a few key words in the story (mostly the descriptive words) were changed slightly – would it change your perception of what happened in the story, or give you a different impression of the people involved?

Politicians are often quite clever in their use of language. Pay attention, lest you be swayed. Recently, I heard George Bush talk about the 15 British military personnel as “hostages” in Iran. That wasn’t accidental. He didn’t call them “captives”. I don’t know whether or not they were really in Iranian waters, but if they were, shouldn’t they be referred to as “captives” or even “prisoners”? If Iranians had been caught in US waters, you can be sure Mr. Bush wouldn’t say they were holding them “hostage”.

We all do it – use language to our benefit, either to imply the other party is at fault (those hostile Iranians taking hostages – they MUST be part of the “axis of evil”), or to imply that we are above reproach. Read your local paper, and try to look with unbiased eyes how many times your own country or city is defined in positive terms while others are viewed through a different lens. It’s often a subtle thing, but even journalists are guilty of a little bias and ethnocentricity.

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