How much pressure does it take to officially change the way certain words are used?
The Associated Press (AP) announced September 22 that it will discourage using the terms climate change skeptic and climate change deniers in favor of climate change doubters or, if space allows, those who reject mainstream climate science.
The reasons the AP gives for this change are fascinating (well, at least for us language mavens).
On one side, scientists object to the use of “skeptics” because they say a skeptic in science bases disbelief on solid evidence and facts which, they claim, climate doubters do not.
On the other side, climate doubters don’t like the use of the word “deniers” because they claim it is too closely associated with the negative implications of Holocaust deniers.
Let’s look at what Mirriam-Webster.com says about those terms:
Skeptic: a person who questions or doubts something (such as a claim or statement); a person who often questions or doubts things.
Denier: one who denies.
To deny: to declare untrue; to refuse to admit or acknowledge; disavow.
The denotations of these words seem harmless enough. According to those definitions, the original terms skeptics and deniers are quite accurate.
But we all know that connotations are driven by political and societal attitudes. The question is whether there was enough public outcry to warrant the change or if the groups protesting the use of skeptics and deniers are just very vocal minorities.
The AP obviously decided there was a large enough objection for the change (or clarification). Did it make a maelstrom out of a breeze?
English is ever-evolving. That’s what makes it such a great language (and such a pain to deal with sometimes). The question in this case is whether it really needed to be modified.
Did the AP cave in to pressure from limited minorities? If it did, is that okay or should it have stood its ground on the original terminology?
What do you think?