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Monday, March 7, 2011

Linguistic Matters

Imagine if you will a certain dynamic.  Imagine the following pairs representing power relationships are engaged in in intense conversation:  a boss and a subordinate, a parent and a child, a prison guard and an inmate.  Now imagine that one person in the suggested pairs suddenly says emphatically: “I won’t argue with you!”  My question, which person in the pairs suggested can best be imagined saying—“I won’t argue with you?”  Clearly the answer is that the source of the statement is the wielder of power.  “I won’t argue with you” is a signal that further discussion won’t be allowed.  The use of the word “argue” is interesting in and of itself.  Cleary the suggestion is YOU are instigating an argument.  YOU are being unreasonable.  YOU are being petulant. YOU are being angry.  YOU are engaging in unacceptable behavior and I (using my authority) am going to stop it.  Perhaps from the subordinate’s point of view, he was engaged not in “argument” but in persuasion.  But “persuasion” is an appellation reserved for the top down, “argument” is adjudged when the disagreement comes from the bottom up.  Finally, take another phrase “Yes sir, whatever you say.”  Clearly this anticipated response can only come from the one with lesser power.  It is the response most preferred and cherished by the powerful.

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