Monday, September 28, 2009

In Honor of the Late William Safire

I had been in communication with Mr. Safire on language issues I have raised here.

In his August 5, 2001 column, "On Language", Safire wrote: "Words have connotations. In the disputed territory known as the West Bank, an Israeli village is called a settlement, implying fresh intrusion; a small Palestinian town, even one recently settled, is called a village, implying permanence." And I noted that his use of "disputed" rather than "occupied," or for that matter, "liberated," in another example of the importance of the terminology one uses.

and there was this posting of mine on January 15, 2006:

More on Terminology

No sooner than I finished posting the last bit of my thinking, I find this at William Safire's column:-

In wartime, words are weapons; we have seen how Israelis and Palestinians are highly sensitive to connotations in their conflict. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon preferred to refer to land in dispute west of the Jordan River by biblical names: Judea and Samaria, evoking Hebrew origins; Israeli diplomats long tried "administered territories." Palestinians call it the West Bank and have won that terminological battle.

On another word-war front, the construction within the West Bank to protect Israelis from rocket attacks and penetration by suicide bombers is called "the wall" by Palestinians intending to evoke memories of the cold war's hated Berlin Wall. Israelis counter by calling it "the fence," a less onerous and more familiar description of a line of separation, recalling to Americans the Robert Frost poetic line "Good fences make good neighbors." (In fact, it is both fence and wall, depending on the place.) After perusal of thesauri, the Bush administration adopted the undeniably accurate word barrier, which has been accepted as neutral by much of the news media and stirs no objection by Israel.


Too bad the NYTimes' own obit didn't mention his forceful defense of Israel in his columns.

1 comment:

yoni said...

i too am sad to see safire go. one of the best. didn't even know about his opinions on israel and the "terminology of the conflict." thanks for that.