Power & Words

Words are powerful. I’m not saying that just because I’m a writer. I believe that words are powerful and that the way powerful people use words has a tremendous influence on what we think and how we express ourselves. I’m about to push myself out on a limb, but I’m upset about the word choices of the new president of the United States.

Setting aside antagonistic politics, ethical questions, culture wars, differing priorities, and all of the many things that divide people into angry factions, I want to talk about how the WORDS used by the 45th president of the United States are changing the way people think and communicate.

Let’s start with the word ‘loser.’ In common usage, it refers to anyone who fails to win a contest or a game. The ‘loser’ may be the runner up and receive a silver medal—not a bad thing in the Olympics. A ‘loser’ may accept defeat with grace or anger and, perhaps, go on to win after gaining perspective from the experience of NOT winning. A loser is also the person getting the short end of a negotiation—the one disadvantaged by an agreement.

In my opinion, losing is not necessarily a bad thing. The experience of loss checks arrogance, reveals faulty assumptions, and humbles the powerful. It also inspires people to work harder and smarter the next time around.

The president uses ‘loser’ to describe anyone who does something evil, immoral, or unethical. Terrorists are ‘losers’ in his speeches. This puts a killer in the same category as the last child chosen for a team in a gym class and the actress who did not receive the academy award. Every time he praises ‘winners’ and demeans ‘losers’ I cringe. Does he need to be reminded that Hitler won the German Election in 1933? Maybe. Winners are not always on the side of good. And agreements (treaties, work contracts, etc.) that are weighted toward the advantage of one party over the other are generally unfair.

‘Sad’ is another word the president uses to describe people who disagree with him, satirize him, or simply wind up on the ‘losing’ side of a negotiation. The primary definition of sad is unhappy, sorrowful, despairing, etc.; the president focuses on the secondary meaning—pathetic or inadequate—and I’m getting tired of it. Does he use it because SAD has fewer characters than pathetic? Maybe, it’s just Twitter math?

The president’s word choices are lazy and imprecise. The words are also callous, angry, peevish, and simplistic. By dividing people into WINNERS and SAD LOSERS he belittles the goal of negotiating positive agreements between respectful rivals, and replaces it with a binary WIN/LOSE equation. He is changing how we communicate and he does it all with his word choices. I don’t expect everyone in power to be eloquent, but when millions of people take your words seriously, please be serious about the words you choose.

Is it old fashioned to care about words?



  1. ‘…replaces it with a binary WIN/LOSE equation..’
    I agree completely with your analysis of his word usage. Unfortunately, I believe that his words do, in fact, precisely express how he sees life and the world. In his world, every negotiation is about winning ‘the deal’. Fair play doesn’t come into it. Sadder still, a whole lot of people who aren’t winners but would like to be agree with every word that slops from his mouth. 🙁

    • Candy Korman

      Unfortunately, I think you are correct. There are many people who’ve lost a great deal (jobs, homes, savings, security) and communities that have been on the “losing end” of deals (losing a tax base, losing a factory to a change in the market, losing large percentages of their populous to prescription drug addiction, losing people to gun violence, etc.) and they STILL identify with the Win/Lose binary equation and want to be the WINNER!

      During my lifetime, I’ve watched as political discourse went from long, complicated, nuanced—and often confusing—discussions to punchy sound bites and on to one-liners. Our attention spans expect a quick cycle and information in small definitive chunks. But life is confusing, nuanced, complicated and often slow, so there’s an attraction to leaders who speak in catchy lines. I’m not sure how much worse it will get before it gets better, but I can only hope it’ll turn around soon. We need leaders that recognize the importance of what they say and how they say it—even if they are tweeting.