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Overcoming or Taking Over?

February 6, 2013

As a writer, I love words that are so ambiguous they can be manipulated to say one thing, while meaning something entirely different, particularly when used by politicians.

The Macmillan online dictionary lists three common definitions for the word “overcome”.

1. To succeed in dealing with or controlling a problem

2. To defeat someone or something

3. To make someone very emotional, weak, sick, or unconscious[1]

When politicians in general speak of overcoming obstacles, they want the listener to think of the first definition, as in “we will overcome (deal with or control) illiteracy (or hunger, or whatever).

In their own minds they are thinking of the second definition, as in “we will overcome (defeat) the opposing viewpoint” to achieve that control.

In practice, the mechanism used to deal with or control a problem by defeating opposition is accomplished by the third definition.  They simply repeat their messaging until the average listener is emotionally committed to a specific viewpoint, or is too weak (complacent), sick (of the topic) or unconscious (tuned out) to continue to oppose it.

This is a word that provides a textbook example of double talk, which is defined by Macmillan as:

“A way of saying things that makes it impossible for people to understand, used by people in official positions when they want to hide the truth”[2]

We have a lot to overcome in our government right now.  

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