I don’t usually fancy myself much of an inventor, not since my failed Homework Machine of the early nineties. Even so, I think I may have something good here. I call it the Leftie Language Translator (the LLT 1.0). It’s still in the prototype stage, but I have high hopes.
Conservatives kick our collective butts by framing the debate with manipulative language. They invented the “Death Tax” to replace the Estate Tax (picture: grim reaper as tax collector), the “personal investment account” to replace privatized Social Security (picture the empowered investor-citizen, chest out, cape flapping in the wind) and the horribly racist stereotype of the “welfare queen” to destroy governmental social programs (picture single mother proudly collecting her check and watching TV all day).
The progressive answer to this manipulation? At Harvard, the solution has been to give up on everyday English altogether and speak in intellectualized code: the bigger the word the better! It’s kind of fun, because once you get it you feel like you’re a part of a secret society of the chosen and enlightened. It’s almost like knowing the special handshake of a cool club for progressives. Unfortunately, it’s also crappy politics.
That’s where the LLT comes in. It’s small, easy to carry with you to class or meetings and has a pretty shiny silver case. Now, as you may (wisely) ask, how does this device work? Simple. Just utter a common phrase or word used by campus lefties (make sure you enunciate, the technology isn’t top quality) and push the big red “TRANSLATE” button. The LLT will give back to you a translation of the input in everyday English that your fellow Ann Harvard or John Radcliffe can easily grasp.
What standard does the LLT use to process these translations? This is where it gets good. I call it the Felipe’s Test. It’s a simple standard: would this statement be comprehendible and persuasive to a random student standing in line at Felipe’s? The LLT simply follows that rule and voila!
With the help of the LLT, even Social Studies concentrators will be relating to their common students in no time! It even works for me! Ok, sometimes.
I can see that you remain unconvinced. Would a demonstration help? Alright, let’s see what this baby can do.
INPUT: “The comments that Jada Pinkett Smith made about relationships at the Cultural Rhythms show were heteronormative and upset members of the gay community.”
(pushing big red button)
LLT: “Listen, I’m gay, I don’t relate to man/woman relationships and because of that, to a lot of everyday dialogue, pop culture etc. I know Ms. Smith doesn’t mean badly, but if we’re here to celebrate diversity, what about me and other people who aren’t straight?”
Sounds reasonable to me. Well done LLT. Let’s try another.
INPUT: “Harvard’s expansion into Allston will dislocate residents and gentrify the entire neighborhood, yet another example of Harvard’s dispassionate corporate, capitalist model.”
(pushing big red button)
LLT: “When students move in, prices will go up. People who don’t have the money to pay the higher rent will have to find somewhere else to live. The Boston housing market is ridiculous, so renters who aren’t rich are likely to be driven away from their neighborhoods and away from their jobs. Harvard needs to think about these things in terms of people, not just cash.”
Good one. That was a toughy. Alright, let’s really pour it on and see what happens.
INPUT: “Final Clubs are a part of a system of oppression that perpetuates male economic domination.”
(deep breath, pushing big red button)
LLT: “Simple is simple, guys who are in the clubs have these beautiful mansions and powerful alumni friends. Girls don’t have that so, of course, men continually have a leg up. I’d say it’s an unfair one, too, because it has nothing to do with merit, just a chromosome.”
Excellent. That’s a sticky situation and God knows there’s more to be said there. Even so, I understood that point. Still not sold?
Some have complained that the LLT dumbs down campus dialogue, playing to the least common denominator rather than trying to reframe the debate with language of our own. I grant that in some senses, the LLT does just that. However, what’s the good of intellectualized language if no one understands it? If the progressive wants to spend a lot of time explaining these words and phrases to people, then I supposed the LLT is useless. But, so long as the majority of campus finds Leftie Language confusing and alienating, I feel like the Translator will have a market.
So there you have it! It’s not perfect, but I’m working on it. Let me know if you have any ideas for improvement, I’m hoping I can make this a community invention.
Until then, you can find the Leftie Language Translator on sale for $19.99 at the COOP. Makes complicated leftie ideas easy to understand and persuasive. Makes a great present for Leftie friends and those who love and/or struggle to understand them. Get one now, before it’s too late.
Andrew H. Golis ’06 is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.