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November 10, 2006 - Penticton Western (CN BC)

OpEd: Who Needs A Dictionary To Spot The Bull?

By Allan Markin, freelance writer living in Penticton.

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I own a modest but amusing collection of dictionaries with unusual themes. My favourite is a "dictionary of the vulgar tongue."

Recently some friends, who were trying to send me a not-so-subtle message, added to my collection. It's called the "Dictionary Of Bullshit" by Nick Webb. Master at converting criticism to advantage that I am, I've turned this feeble attack on my "gift of the gab" into satiric salvos aimed at slingers of excrement called bull.

First a question: what is BS? Experts generally agree that there is no simple definition. But Harry G. Frankfurt, in his scholarly essay "On Bullshit" published by Princeton University Press, suggests that it might be "deceptive misrepresentation that falls short of lying."

Whatever! We don't need professors to help us spot bull. It's all around us. Politicians, for instance, have been shovelling bull for eons, hoping that electors have lost their sense of smell. Not likely!

Witness the recent Peter McKay -- Belinda Stronach debacle. The canine caterwauling (sorry for the mixed metaphor) that has accompanied the question of whether or not he called her a "dog," is an embarrassment to all Canadians. That Belinda has come out "on top" in the "debate" without relying on NHL enforcer Tie Domi is particularly scary.

Apparently not to pundit Norman Spector, who has been passionately attached to the noun "bitch" with respect to Ms. Stronach. What hope is there for lesser beings like me who love the English language when erudite types like Mr. Spector have to rely on the "vulgar tongue" to get attention?

Then there's Professor Michael Ignatieff, that brilliant scholar who audaciously aspires to go directly from the hallowed halls of Harvard to the leadership of the federal Liberals and, eventually, to the office of Prime Minister.

Lately he has been uttering clarifications left and right. Two examples: his stand on Israel and his comments on Quebec "nationhood." My advice to Canadians: whenever you are about to hear a politician promising to clarify an imprudent statement in order to be "accountable" run for cover or stand upwind from the fan. The brown stuff is about to rain on your head.

Marketing gurus provide an endless supply of BS as well. A particular brand of toothpaste, we are told by a dentist look alike during commercial breaks, is "recognized" by dentists everywhere. Pretty meaningless when one considers that dentists also recognize BMW sedans, conventions in exotic resort locations and their mothers-in-law.

Then there are those inane folks hunting for "windows of opportunity." As in: "After I push the envelope, I'll try to find a window of opportunity to spend some quality time with my wife/children before someone identifies a new paradigm and slams the door shut." I can feel a migraine coming on.

But I am most irritated by military BS. For example, what is an "embedded" journalist? Is he someone sleeping in the quiet comfort of a tank rolling along a highway in Iraq? Or is she someone brought close to the action so that the message coming out to the folks back home can be washed and spun out like the weekend laundry?

And what does "friendly fire" mean? Does it mean that a few soldiers playing with their weapons accidentally discharged them in the direction of their buddies? Or does it mean that there has been a colossal mistake resulting in soldiers being killed by their own troops.

Then there's BS called the "war on terror." Logic suggests that we will never defeat terror, but we might succeed in killing a few terrorists. Indeed, we have allowed the meaning of war to be diminished by associating it with conflicts of all kinds. There was a time when war was war, pure and simple. Oh those good old days!

Now we have the war on drugs, the war on pine beetle infestation, war on crime, war on fast foods, war on obesity, war on global warming, war on everything, it seems.

What's missing is a war on wars. Now that's a campaign I could support.

The point I should like to make is this: we need to launch a determined effort to rid the world of BS. It isn't cute or entertaining. Rather, it is dangerous when used to confuse, conceal, misrepresent, or deceive.

Be glad if you're not in this user group. But if you are, check out Webb's "Dictionary Of Bullshit". You'll find it most helpful, if only to make you more creative. After all, there's more than two ways to say "dog."

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