July 17, 2007

Obfuscating language

In his column in today's Louisville Courier-Journal, Cal Thomas has this to say about Louisiana Republican senator David Vitter:

"Pictures of a woman said to be the prostitute with whom Vitter reportedly had a relationship are posted on various Websites."

"Reportedly had a relationship?" What does that mean? Are we to suppose the senator dated her? Co-hosted a Super Bowl party with her? That they posted links to each other's blogs? Spoke long into the night about their passions, hopes and dreams?

Granted, language is constantly changing, and phrases associated with male-female behaviors are especially fluid, but that's why writers need to be especially careful with diction.

What better options did Thomas have?

How about Vitter's main squeeze? This phrase might have distressed Vitter's wife, indicating as it does a primary relationship, but it has the advantage of sounding somewhat lewd.

An alternative is the woman Vitter hooked up with. Another obfuscating phrase, it can mean anything from talked to two days in a row (if you're in elementary school) to had a one-night stand with to fell madly in love with and has never left her side. The phrase's strength is that it's reminiscent of the word hooker. Unfortunately, it shares the same weakness as Thomas's original language. You can't hear in it the sound of the cash register.

Perhaps a bald statement of the information would be most effective. In that case, the sentence would read as follows:

"Pictures of the alleged prostitute whom Vitter reportedly paid to have sex with him are posted on various websites."

I like it. It's simple and direct. Best of all, it's clear -- which brings us to the question of why Thomas opted for murky. Maybe his column turned out to be a bit short and needed some padding. Maybe he was running late and couldn't spare the time precision demands. Then again, maybe he wanted to avoid the impression that Vitter's actions were illegal.

No comments: