A glossary of 2014 Newspeak

A glossary of 2014 Newspeak

Constitution (noun/slang): A piece of paper torn to shreds every few years by gun-toting soldiers who perform such deeds on national TV. Usually, a new piece of paper is written shortly afterwards, invariably by a clique of handpicked Samaritans, legislative superheroes, heartbroken mavericks and all-purpose sycophants.

Lately in parts of Southeast Asia, this slang term is a self-defeating conundrum, for it's the highest, most sacred law of a country though it's the most worthless, vulnerable and indefensible sitting duck. In those parts of the region, a new constitution is neither new nor constitutional. With some arm-twisting, it also leads to (in a deliberate misquote of Abraham Lincoln) "a government of some people, by some people, for some people".

Corruption (noun/uncountable): Anything done by those you don't like. If it's done by the people you like, it's not corruption — instead, it's a shower of fortune and benediction. This is a paradox that even the best minds in the Oxford Dictionary department cannot explain. In some countries, "corruption" is also used as a covert summons to the faint-hearted to blow a lot of whistles.

Abuse of Power (noun): See above.

Impeachment (colloquial): See above.

Supreme Council of State (noun/19th century): In Thai, apirattamontri. The word was unheard of for nearly a century but unearthed with insouciance last week by members of the National Reform Council (who can't be argued with). Scholars are debating the meaning of apirattamontri — a body whose power is above the three pillars of democracy and can supposedly override the executive, legislative and judiciary decisions. Is it the same as, say, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in the Middle Ages? The unarguable fatwa? Is it tied to divine intervention above human understanding? Is it "Supreme Council" or "Super Council" or "Meta Council" Or "Mega Council", or just an anything-goes wildcard to ensure the destiny of an entire nation is in the clutches of the chosen few?

This council of apirattamontri was in power here in the 1940s. It was made up of lords and princes whose aristocratic family names are still around today. The term went out of fashion, as it should, and the Reform Council's summoning of it from the black hole of history into the nervous present is telling: Reform means going forward, but in our minds, reform is rewinding. The past is not even past.  

Free Socialism (noun/euphemism): In Thai, sangkomniyiom seri. Another lexical brainteaser dreamt up last week by the NRC, which sometimes resembles an assembly of wise men, sometimes a tribe of palm-readers. In explaining it, these alleged reformists stress the need for income equality — a noble goal, only that it sounds hypocritical while in the same week authorities cracked down on activists calling for land redistribution, not to mention reports of the eviction of poor people in murky circumstances. To impose an inheritance tax is also noble, and to announce it with fanfare means there's enough time for the billionaires (the real ones) to move their money offshore. Obviously our "Free Socialism" model is China — with the "free" bit thrown in to make it less scary — only that we're light years away from the economic results achieved by the iron-fisted state, whose own corruption record (see above) is far from unblemished.

This is a good example in semantic studies. Words enable thought and reality: If something doesn't have a word for it, it doesn't exist. In short, to alter reality, you alter words. To convince people of a new reality, you don't even have to create that reality — you only create a word for it. And if you keep repeating the word enough, the reality is cemented and the propaganda becomes real.

Likewise, if you want to get rid of a reality and live in denialism, you delete words — or for maximum impact, you ban books (e.g. this week's A Kingdom in Crisis by Andrew MacGregor Marshall) and pretend that those words, those thoughts, those possibilities, don't exist in your cocoon. "Banning books" (18th century) is a direct antonym of "digital economy" (21st century) and the state that champions both is either schizophrenic or a pure nut job.

Freedom (noun/limited use): Do what you want regardless of your upbringing or dignity, but if your opponent does the same, the term doesn't apply.

Progress (noun): Take all the words described above and mix them with gunpowder, hypocrisy and self-righteousness — and that's the opposite of progress. Because the Earth's spinning and the clock's ticking, progress means forward, and those who fool themselves into believing otherwise will eventually be squeezed out of this world.


Kong Rithdee is Deputy Life Editor, Bangkok Post.

Kong Rithdee

Former Life Editor

Kong has written about films for 18 years with the Bangkok Post and other publications, and is one of the most prominent writers on cinema in the region.

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