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  • A college professor wanted to give his students a memorable lesson on how history is written by the victors. While delivering a lecture on Columbus, he walked up to the desk of a coed in the front row, casually removed her handbag and tucked it under his arm. The class guffawed. At the end of the session, the handbag's owner demanded its return. The professor refused. "You stole my bag!" the flustered young woman cried. "No," the instructor replied, "I discovered it."

    It's a leap of some 450 years from Christopher Columbus to George Orwell. If you haven't done so recently, please re-read "1984." The wise men told us the book's appeal would fade after the titular year came and went without the appearance of Big Brother (other than in remote outposts like North Korea). I find Orwell's novel more powerful -- and disturbing -- than ever. Consider the permanent state of war we find ourselves in. Consider the state- and media-sanctioned outbursts of public hate and fear. But most of all, consider the manipulation of words to mean their opposite or to lose meaning at all. Our national poet laureate is now Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty, who famously declared: "When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean -- nothing more, nothing less." We fling terms like "socialist" and "fascist" around with wild abandon and swear undying fealty to a document, the U.S. Constitution, that most of us have never bothered to read. We dine on empty slogans while our civil rights are systematically removed, one by one. This new Newspeak is sponsored by groups and individuals with boundless ambition and bottomless pockets. Think of it as corporate underwriting of the Tower of Babel.

    If you love words, if you think they should mean what they mean and not what someone else wants them to mean, the time has come to take our vocabulary back. Word lovers, don't let the bastards get away with it. Call out lazy, deceitful or fuzzy language for the b.s. that it is. Demand clarity and demand it loudly. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous.

    OK, I swiped those last two lines from Molly Ivins. No, wait. I discovered them.
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