A Conservative Lexicon With English Translation

Yes, you can understand what conservatives are saying.

Liberals and moderates often find statements by conservatives to be nonsensical or even incomprehensible. Sarah Palin, just to name one example, is frequently accused of speaking in “word salad“, a style in which terms are thrown together without apparent attention to syntax or meaning.

I have come to believe that this view does conservatives an injustice. What has actually happened is that conservatives, like tribes marooned on inaccessible islands, have developed what is essentially a new language. While language-drift in the wild may take generations or even longer, conservative word use has diverged from English far more quickly due to (1) the speed of modern communication, (2) the very tight circles of conservative discourse (sometimes described as an “echo chamber”) in which outside input is discounted or viewed as sinister, and (3) the neologisms of conservative candidates facing election, who often need to seem to be saying something different than they actually are.

Consequently, the new Conservative language outwardly resembles English, but its terms have been redefined and repurposed in ways that create the seeming unintelligibility. For example, statements like “Voter ID laws are necessary to reduce voter fraud” may seem delusional to someone who interprets voter fraud in the standard English sense of “votes cast by people legally ineligible to vote”, since this very rarely happens, and (when it does) happens in ways voter-ID laws would not affect (i.e., absentee ballot fraud or hacking vote-counting machines). But once you understand the true conservative meaning of voter fraud (“votes cast by people whose demographic profile makes them likely to vote Democratic”), the statement makes perfect sense.

In a similar way, seemingly bizarre utterances like “Obama is a Marxist” or “Fox News is fair and balanced” are perfectly coherent, understandable, and even true once you have access to the proper definitions.

Previous lexicons have been attempted (here, for example), but I don’t think they have captured the systemic nature of Conservative, i.e., the way its terms interact to describe a complete worldview.

And so, in hope that Americans of all political persuasions will better understand what conservatives are really saying (rather than write off their statements as harmless nonsense), I present this incomplete Conservative-to-English lexicon.

American exceptionalism. The belief that the United States is exempt from all legal and moral standards. Example: Waterboarding is a capital crime when done to Americans, but legally and morally acceptable when practiced by Americans.

Appeasement. Hesitating before attacking or overthrowing the unfriendly government of an oil-rich nation.

Balance. 1. Providing Democrats as well as Republicans the opportunity to criticize President Obama. 2. Providing blacks as well as whites the opportunity to indict black culture. Usage: “Fox News is fair and balanced.”

Color-blindness. Fighting racial injustice by refusing to see it, much as an ostrich avoids danger by sticking its head into the sand.

Confederacy. An early attempt to restore the freedom envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Still an object of nostalgia in the GOP’s southern base.

Constitution. A holy scripture written by the Founding Fathers. Like the Bible, it means whatever conservatives want it to mean, regardless of its actual text. The Constitution, for example, protects corporate personhood, and the near-infinite powers it assigns to Republican presidents vanish when a Democrat takes office. Unlike the real-life Constitution, the Constitution includes the Declaration of Independence, and so really does mention God.

Controversial. An adjective applying to any fact or set of facts that conservatives don’t want to believe. Examples: evolution and climate change. Once facts have been labeled controversial, stating them as facts is evidence of liberal bias.

Dependent on government. Anyone receiving welfare, encompassing retirees, students, and the disabled. Usage: “there are 47 percent … who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Europe. A hellish dystopia governed by liberals, where people belong to unions, have guaranteed health care, and earn high wages with long vacations. Soon to be overrun by Muslims. Usage: “I want you to remember when our White House reflected the best of who we are, not the worst of what Europe has become.”

Fair. Favoring the wealthy. Usage: “A true free market is always fair.”

Fascism. An insult with no meaningful content, similar to “bastard” or “asshole”. The previously well established Mussolini/Hitler sense of the term —  a militarist, nativist, corporatist style of totalitarianism claiming to restore a nation to the greatness of its mythic past — is now archaic, having been successfully jammed by tangential usages like Islamo-fascism and oxymorons like liberal fascism.

Founding Fathers. Loosely based on the American generational cohort that fought the Revolution and wrote the Constitution, the conservative Founding Fathers are heroes of a great mythic past constructed by pseudo-historians like David Barton. Divinely inspired, the Founding Fathers intended to create a non-denominational Christian theocracy, but inexplicably failed to mention God in the Constitution. They were implacably opposed to Big Government, even as they were writing a constitution that vastly extended the powers of the national government beyond those laid out in the previous Articles of Confederation. They “worked tirelessly” to end slavery, while owning hundreds of slaves themselves, and without actually ending slavery until long after they were all dead.

Free market. A system of decision-making based on the only fair principle: one dollar, one vote.

Freedom. 1. The ineffable quality that exempts the United States from all moral standards. (See American exceptionalism). Usage: “They hate our freedom.” 2. The right of the powerful to use their power as they see fit. Usage: “The minimum wage is a freedom killer.” 3. The right of job creators to use public infrastructure without paying taxes, or to exploit common resources (like air, water, or public land) without regulation. Example: Cliven Bundy.

Freedom of religion. The right of conservative Christians to shape society and define social acceptability. Intended by the Founding Fathers only to protect expressions of religion, not atheism or Islam.

Freedom of speech. 1. The right of a conservative to speak and write publicly without criticism. (See persecution.) Example: Sarah Palin’s objection in 2008 to the characterization of her charge that Barack Obama was “paling around with terrorists” as “negative campaigning”. “If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations, then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.” While no one had disputed Palin’s right to say what she said, the fact that she faced criticism for it violated her freedom of speech. 2. In election campaigns, the right of the rich to drown out all competing voices.

God. Jehovah, the father of Jesus, as revealed by a literal reading of the Bible. Non-Christians do not believe in God, but in other supernatural beings like Allah. Some liberals claim to believe in God, but they use the word incorrectly.

Hate. Criticism of conservative ideas or disputation of facts alleged by conservatives. See persecution.

Innocent human life. The unborn, who possess souls of infinite worth. At birth, a child inherits the soul-value of his parents, which — if they are black or poor — does not amount to much. Consequently, abortion in the United States is a moral crisis equivalent to the Holocaust, while our third-worldish infant mortality rate (34th in the world, just behind Cuba) is no big deal.

Job creator. A wealthy person, who may or may not be an employer, and who may even have become wealthy by firing people or shipping jobs overseas. Usage: “Let’s cut taxes for job creators.” Does not apply to public works, public schools, or any other government program, no matter how many Americans such a program might productively employ.

Judicial activism. When judges rule against corporate interests or white supremacy, or in favor of separating Church from State.

Liberal media bias. The fading tendency of certain portions of the journalistic establishment to require supporting facts before promoting a conspiracy theory. For an example of the frustration this causes conservatives, consider the following quote from Jonah Goldberg shortly before the 2012 election: “If you want to understand why conservatives have lost faith in the so-called mainstream media, you need to ponder the question: Where is the Benghazi feeding frenzy?”

Marxist. One who regrets the increasing concentration of wealth. Unrelated to any theories contained in the writings of Karl Marx. Usage: “Elizabeth Warrren, who has almost confessed to her Marxist views”. (Synonyms: communistsocialist, liberal.)

Persecution. (1) Denying conservatives the special rights they believe they are entitled to. Example: The War on Christmas, in which conservative Christians are persecuted if they are not allowed to dominate all public space for the month of December. (2) Criticism directed at conservatives. Example: If a conservative says something racist and you point that out, you are persecuting him. (See freedom of speech.) (3) Enforcing laws broken by conservatives. Example: Dinesh D’Souza.

Political correctness. The bizarre liberal belief that whites, men, straights, Christians, the rich, and other Americans in positions of privilege should treat less privileged people with respect, even though such people have no power to force them to.

Poor. Lacking in gumption or virtue, undeserving, black.

Racism. Calling attention to racial injustice with an intention to rectify it. Also called “playing the race card”. (See color-blindness.) Example: the Fox News commentator who said, “You know who talks about race? Racists.”

Religion. Christianity, not including degraded liberal variants that accept evolution or gay rights.

Second Amendment rights. The right of whites, Christians, the wealthy, and other traditionally privileged groups to commit violence when their privileges are threatened by democratic processes. (People not from privileged groups may be gunned down by police — with full conservative support — if they are even suspected of being armed.) Best expressed by Sharron Angle in her 2010 Senate campaign: “if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies.” Also by Virginia Republican Catherine Crabill: “We have a chance to fight this battle at the ballot box before we have to resort to the bullet box. But that’s the beauty of our Second Amendment right. I am glad for all of us who enjoy the use of firearms for hunting. But make no mistake. That was not the intent of the Founding Fathers. Our Second Amendment right was to guard against tyranny.”

Taxes. A method of stealing money from job creators and giving it to poor people. Unrelated to Social Security, Medicare, roads, schools, lowering the deficit, or any other useful goal.

Terrorist. 1. A Muslim. 2. Any violent person conservatives don’t like. Cannot be applied to violent anti-abortionists, white supremacists, or tax resisters. (See Second Amendment rights.)

Tyranny. When a Marxist gets elected and then tries to carry out the platform the people voted for. Example: ObamaCare.

Values. Beliefs that condemn gays or promiscuous women. Usage: the Values Voters Summit.

Voter fraud. Any votes cast by people whose demographic profile makes them likely to vote Democratic, i.e., blacks, Hispanics, or students. Alternate form: election fraud. Usage: “Obama likely won re-election through election fraud.”

Welfare. Any payment from the government, including (when convenient) Social Security, unemployment compensation, or student loans. Usage: “Unemployment compensation is just another welfare program.”

While far from complete — please suggest additional entries in the comments — I hope this lexicon will make conservative speech more comprehensible to the general public, and persuade voters that the apparent gibberish spoken by conservative candidates actually expresses a unified worldview that should be taken more seriously.

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  • Don Clemens  On September 29, 2014 at 10:22 am

    At last! NOW I understand Fox News!

  • Gina  On September 29, 2014 at 10:27 am

    “illegal” – any Hispanic, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, particularly one who is enjoying some minority benefit such as financial aid or affirmative action. Usage: “Illegals get full scholarships to go to college while real Americans can’t afford to send their kids to school!” “Illegals get first crack at American jobs!”

  • Terminatrix138  On September 29, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Great list. Infuriating that they get away with it, though.

  • Daniel Filner  On September 29, 2014 at 10:54 am

    “Ram through” you’ll be hearing again this week wrt Holder replacement: non conservative officials who use a majority vote to fulfill their sworn duties.

  • Daniel Filner  On September 29, 2014 at 11:02 am

    “unelected” as in unelected judges. Non conservative persons duly appointed to power through a constitutional process, often by getting rammed through.

    • weeklysift  On September 29, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      I think we also need “The People”, who are white males living in rural areas or the South. Then we can talked about unelected judges being “rammed through against the will of the People”.

    • weeklysift  On September 30, 2014 at 7:37 am

      Given Philippe Saner’s definition of “Real American” below, “the People” could be “all Real Americans”.

  • weeklysift  On September 29, 2014 at 11:37 am

    These are all great, people. Keep them coming and I’ll have to do a sequel.

  • Kate McDermott  On September 29, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    “Bible believing” – I believe the Bible is true because the Bible tells me its true.

  • Leo  On September 29, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    This is one of the best things I’ve ever read.

  • Barb Mantegani  On September 29, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Impeachable offense – anything Barack Obama does or does not do.

  • Philippe Saner  On September 30, 2014 at 12:13 am

    Dunno how accurate these are overall, but based on what I’ve seen…

    Thug – Young black man.

    Real American – Conservative white person, probably middle-aged or older, probably rural.

    Traditional Values – Any values we believe in, no matter how recently we started believing in them.

    Government spending – Money spent by the government on things we don’t like. If we like it, it’s not government spending. Actually, if we like it it probably doesn’t count as government at all. Like the military.

    States’ Rights – Our inalienable right to pass our agenda at the state level when it’s blocked at the federal level, regardless of where the relevant powers officially lie.

  • No Mayonaisse  On September 30, 2014 at 12:26 am

    Family: A group of people related by blood to, and under the control of, a reasonably wealthy, straight white man.

    • weeklysift  On September 30, 2014 at 7:41 am

      Traditional Family: The families I saw on TV when I was 15. Unrelated to the typical American family of any era.

  • Anonymous  On September 30, 2014 at 12:52 am

    Heartfelt belief: The self-evident truths I am telling you now, not that ridiculous hogwash I was video taped saying last week.

  • Bonnie McDaniel  On September 30, 2014 at 1:08 am

    This is just fantastic.

  • Brent Holman  On September 30, 2014 at 1:56 am

    “Rammed down the throats of law abiding Americans” numerous variants.
    As in ‘any law legally passed by the Congress & signed by the President.’
    Meaning: (well, we know what it means, forced oral sodomy), which kinda suggests a ‘Forced Audio Sodomy’ committed by the lunatic fringe all the freaking time.

  • weeklysift  On September 30, 2014 at 7:34 am

    These continue to be really good. I can see that the Lexicon will have to have a second edition.

  • David  On September 30, 2014 at 11:47 am

    very entertaining and out of character for you as you give into the frustration we all feel with people unwilling to listen or consider other points of view.

    • weeklysift  On October 3, 2014 at 8:13 am

      Giving in to frustration … not what I had in mind. Though I can see from some of the positive comments that some readers liked it because they felt it expressed their own frustration. Actually, I felt kind of light-hearted while I wrote this. It’s serious, but I hope it’s also amusing in something more than a bitter way.

      Let me describe where this came from. When I was writing “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party”, I had to unpack some language distortion: Pro-gun folks talk about how Americans might need our guns to overthrow the government if it becomes “tyrannical”, which sounds almost reasonable. But then when you look at what they mean by “tyranny”, it’s not Hitler, it’s ObamaCare and immigration reform and same-sex marriage and Keynesian economics. In short, it’s liberalism, even if liberals come to power by winning honest elections.

      When you insert the translation, the radicalism of that position becomes clear: “We need guns to overthrow the government in case people elect too many liberals.” That’s not caricature or hyperbole, that’s what they really mean.

      What I claim about this lexicon — very seriously in most cases, though a few are just for laughs — is that my definition explains the word’s conservative usage better than a standard English dictionary.

  • Founding Father  On September 30, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    This is the perfect list. Reminds me of Atheists trying to coherently discuss Christianity when they are obviously clueless on the topic.

    • weeklysift  On October 3, 2014 at 8:16 am

      But Christians could gain from those discussions by understanding how they look to people outside their bubble. “O wad some Power the giftie gie us
      To see oursels as ithers see us!”

  • felix  On October 2, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    This is just outsider mockery. You’re not providing any real insight into why these words are used the way they are. The lesson of the lexicon is “conservatives are idiots and there’s no point trying to reason with them”, which is perhaps true in some cases, but it’s not generally helpful. The only path forward from that is war, and victory is a nation led by the Knights of Truth, not a representative democracy. Is there another answer?

    • Gina  On October 2, 2014 at 1:31 pm

      Speaking for myself, this is not the lesson I intended or took from the topic. I learned a long time ago that it doesn’t matter if conservatives are idiots or not, they feel what they feel and think what they think for reasons, and you’re right, we must understand the reasons if we are to make progress with them. Doug Muder is much better at this than I am.

      The purpose of this exercise is not to say that conservatives are idiots and there’s no point trying to reason with them. It’s to understand that they are trying to use language to construct a reality they want rather than what’s real. We should go a step further and ask why they want to do that. It’s because they’re scared and stubborn. They really really want things to be a certain way, and so they construct myths and beliefs and language to shore up the belief that things are a certain way. Because that feels better to them than trying to adjust to the way things really are. When we ridicule, contradict or dismiss them, that’s where the “stubborn” part comes in. They’re not going to follow a logical, reasonable train of thought that leads to the crumbling of the reality they’ve carefully constructed. They will only find ways to make it stronger in their mind. And that’s how we’ve come to be where we are with them. Folie a plusieurs (“madness of many”).

      What to do about it, I don’t know, but I know it helps to understand it.

    • weeklysift  On October 3, 2014 at 8:25 am

      Here’s a more positive point: Elections are decided by low-information voters, many of whom take conservative candidates’ statements at face value and think they don’t sound too bad. (See the we-need-guns-to-overthrow-tyranny example I gave in a comment above.) One of the tricks to defeating a Joni Ernst or Jody Hice is to get those apparently harmless statements unpacked. If you’re going to guide voters to do that unpacking, you have to understand it well yourself.

  • jerryab  On October 3, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    Conservatives whine about the Second Amendment–but they won’t sell me suitcase nukes for self-defense, hunting, or fishing….

    • weeklysift  On October 4, 2014 at 7:35 am

      And if word gets out that you’re making your own, the government will be on your doorstep in no time. Talk about tyranny.

  • rjacobsen0  On October 4, 2014 at 10:11 am

    U.S. Military – a place where southern men can go to blow stuff up, play with guns and drones, and generally be more powerful than anyone else in the whole world. The military is being southernized and no longer mirrors the nation (http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/geography-and-the-american-military/). Muslims see it as a christian force which has come into its region for a new crusade.

    Thank you for your service – only said to military and former military personnel. Never said to teachers, doctors, waitresses, construction workers, or janitors. I’m not sure what it means, but it deserves a definition.

  • Ashley  On October 5, 2014 at 1:03 am

    Activist (Judges)- Any judge who issues any ruling that does not benefit the white, heterosexual, Christian males explicitly and/or CEO’s of major corporations or the corporations themselves (because they’re people too), or does not sufficiently punish or deny from everyone else.

  • fribster  On October 6, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    “Mainstream Media: Any tv news that isn’t Fox News, any newspaper that isn’t owned by Rupert Murdoch and NPR, without regard to how many people actually consume each media.”

  • Scott McLarty  On October 7, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    Alternate definition of Free Market: Condition in which regulations are repealed in order to promote competition, enabling a small number of corporations to dominate the market and strangle competition.

    Another alternate definition of Free Market: Freedom of corporations (which receive massive government subsidies, tax breaks, free infrastructure, no-bid government contracts, taxpayer-funded bailouts and insurance against losses in the market, impunity for crime, and international trade pacts that favor the business sector) from the tyranny of big government.

  • Xan  On March 30, 2015 at 9:43 am

    There’s probably already a comment like this, but do you think you could do a companion piece on phrases the left could be using to counteract these? We did pretty good getting everyone to talk about pro-choice and anti-abortion. And we seem to be getting there with “marriage equality” instead of “same sex marriage.” But we really need something for right to work, religious freedom, anti-gun, and pretty much all of the above.

  • Raj singh  On April 2, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    English translation
    English grammer



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