July 18, 2020

PSSSST....THEY AREN'T BEING PEDANTIC:

It's Perfectly Fine to Call It "Defunding" the Police (JOHN H. MCWHORTER, JULY 18, 2020, Slate)

However, most people when they say defund mean that the police should get less money, that the police should be responsible for fewer things within a society--less money, not no money. The question you might ask then is: If that's what people mean, then isn't it imprecise to say "Defund the police"? Shouldn't we be using words according to what they really mean?

In this case, I think we need to be a little more subtle about the matter. The prefix de- is not always absolute. It can also be what a linguist might call scalar. Now it's true that if you dethrone somebody, then you are pulling their butt off of the throne. Down they go, and that's it. To dethrone means to leave the person not on the throne. It's either A or B. Or take desegregate. The idea is not to leave a bit of segregation.

But there are other uses of de-. For example, to deescalate. If you think about it, when you say deescalate, what you imagine is pulling the thermometer reading down, maybe by a lot. But when you don't necessarily mean that you're extinguishing the whole business. It's a matter of degree, pulling something closer down to the middle.

Or if you decompress, does that mean that you are going to wind up maximally uncompressed? Probably not. It's scalar. It's a continuum.

And so defund can mean that, too.

Posted by at July 18, 2020 3:40 PM

  

« IN 1980, DEMOCRATS THOUGHT THERE WAS SUCH A THING AS SAFE SENATE SEATS: | Main | THE TRUMP BRAND: »