Words Matter: Mislabeling as an Offensive Strategy

Karl H Christ
3 min readMay 20, 2024

A big part of being a word-nerd is being regularly irritated by people’s incorrect usage, objectively or by personal opinion, of words and phrases. When people speak or write incorrectly by chance, as an honest mistake, it’s bothersome, but forgivable. Less forgivable is when people intentionally misuse words, apply the wrong words or phrases, in order to mislead people, to push an agenda or enforce their disingenuous interpretation on people, that is far less bearable.

When it is reported that “protestors clashed with police,” for example, that is irksome. When violence is justified by falsely ascribing the perpetration of violent actions onto the victims of violence, that is intolerable. Apologists for state-oppression against civilians might as well be using “they were asking for it” rhetoric. Some people literally do take that tack. Not just your standard everyday jackoffs, but political leaders, have called for violence against peaceful protestors. They are able to get away with this, or at least attempt to justify it, by falsely claiming that the actions of the protestors are violent. Lacking any shred of evidence of actual violence, they make the claim that the words, motivations, or very existence of the protestors are violent. Never mind that what the protestors are protesting is war, that they are advocating for peace.

A common mislabeling of the current string of protests against US-funding for the extermination of the Palestinian people is that which calls them “pro-Palestinian.” That is a general misclassification of who the protestors are and what their goals are. It is a generalization which implies that this is simply a conflict between two sides of comparable power and standing, like opposing football teams or boxers, which is clearly not the case. It can also imply that they are “anti-Israel,” which isn’t necessarily the case. To some, it could imply that the protestors have an ideological favoritism for Palestinians over other people, which also isn’t the case. Most people who have joined in protests in support of the Palestinian people have at most a cursory understanding of the culture and history of Palestinians, who they are outside of the context of conflict, war, and genocide. Advocating for a people’s right to live freely and not be exterminated doesn’t inherently carry with it a particular connection to or care for those people, but the simple and righteous belief that all people are entitled to that right. They are more “pro-human rights” and “anti-war” or “anti-genocide” than they are in favor of or against specific peoples.

When violent mobs have attacked protestors, they have been labeled as “counter-protestors.” This may be the most etymologically dishonest term that’s been bandied. To say that they were counter-protestors carries the implication that their behavior and intentions were on the same scale as the protestors. To say that something is “counter” to something else implies a kind of equivalency, a challenge, perhaps a balance. It suggests that they were having a protest of their own, peacefully and democratically expressing their own views on the issue, which was demonstrably not the case. They didn’t understand the views of the protestors well enough to challenge them intellectually, and had no desire to do so; all they wanted was to do harm and silence them. Incapable of engaging in nuanced thoughts or discussions and not respecting the human, civil, and constitutional rights of other human beings, they acted purely with violence. Those are not the actions of protestors or counter-protestors, but fascists. When one side is demonstrating peacefully in favor of life and human rights, and the other side attacks them with blunt weapons and fire, they cannot be labeled in complementary terms. There are peaceful people and violent people. There are protestors and there are fascists.