Earmarks and other dirty words

It’s interesting how certain words in the English language can become good or bad depending on how we choose to use them, and regardless of their original meaning. This is true especially in the world of politics, judging from the endless procession of mind-numbing television and radio commercials. For example, if you believe politician-speak, “conservative” is always a good word while “liberal” is always a bad one. No one out there is claiming to be liberal these days, but everyone appears to be conservative, at least according to their ads.

The most basic definitions, however, tell us that conservative is someone or something “marked by moderation or caution.” On the other hand, liberal is defined as “marked by generosity,” or “given or provided in a generous and openhanded way.” Neither one connotates anything bad, and certainly, based on these definitions, we can all agree that there are certain circumstances that require a conservative approach while others need a more liberal one. One who reaches such a conclusion probably would be defined as “moderate.” Is it good or is it bad to be a moderate? It’s anyone’s guess in today’s political lexicon.

Another word that has been corrupted beyond recognition is “earmarks.” Almost every candidate for public office these days seems to be campaigning against the use of earmarks. Even if we go to a strictly political definition, an earmark would be “a provision in Congressional legislation that allocates a specified amount of money for a specific project, program or organization.” So it’s not such a terrible thing if you have a vested interest in the project, program or organization in question.

This fact was brought to light during a recent presentation by Scott Angle, the dean of the University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. During the first day of the 2010 Georgia Peanut Tour, Angle brought the sobering news that after all is said and done in terms of budget cuts this year, the state’s Extension Service would be 75 percent of what it used to be, and a couple of research farms would be sold. And, while the term “earmarks” has been demonized by many politicians, he wanted to serve notice that earmark-supported research is vital to the success of farming. Changes are needed, Angle says, to make the process more transparent, but agriculture will suffer greatly without the concept of earmarks.

So when searching for the true meaning of a word, whatever you do, don’t take the word of a politician. As more than one of my English teachers commanded, “Look it up!”


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