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What's in a name?

Nobel Prize winning author Elias Canetti said, “You have but to know an object by its proper name for it to lose its dangerous magic.” In a world where we are constantly focusing on using “politically correct” terms for things, we often lose sight of the important power that lies in our language. A name has the power to shape the attitude people have towards something, and while we sometimes take this for granted, the people that have power over our nation, and even our school, are researching daily to ensure everything sounds pleasant, despite the truth. What would the world be like if we renamed some things, giving them a moniker that fits more closely with their description? Here’s a glimpse:

“Peacekeeping forces.” Read: Armed military forces who occupy another country usually to protect U.S. or western economic interests there or calm down a state of pandemonium that our government probably started (indirectly or directly) several years prior. The sheer irony is mind boggling. The last time I checked peace wasn’t “forceful,” at least not according to Jesus, Gandhi and peacekeepers that have come before. Pointing guns at people in the name of bringing peace is about as logical as saying you put cheese in the trap because the mouse looked hungry. New name: “Act in ‘Peace,’ or Get Blown to Pieces.” “Peace” meaning following the U.S. government’s orders, of course.

“Operation Iraqi Freedom.” A term producing mental images of American soldiers exchanging hugs with lowly people in a distant land, protecting them from the corrupt leader we happened to back years earlier and spreading the perks of capitalism, oops, democracy. So why don’t the casualty rates match up with this? How coincidental that Halliburton oil company, the U.S. military’s biggest contractor in Iraq, was formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, who still receives paychecks from them. Although the media experts probably canned the name “Operation Iraqi Liberation” because of it’s suggestive acronym, it’s time to take it back and call this mission what it really is—“O.I.L.”

“Terrorism” is defined as acts of violence toward civilians, committed for political reasons. This one is tricky, as its designation changes depending on the perpetrator’s identity. If it’s U.S. government, for example, it has a different name—“national defense”—even if it’s dropping bombs near schools or starving children through sanctions. Perhaps what the Bush administration really means by terrorist is “Threatening Middle Eastern Man.”

Hmmm, this is getting a bit inflammatory. Time to change the focus and take a look at Duke. We have fun labels to examine right here in our own “Gothic Wonderland” (I won’t touch that one—don’t worry).

“Curriculum 2000.” It sounds non-threatening. It has that “new millennium,” adventurous ring to it. It “ensures that you will receive a thorough and comprehensive education, one that explores new ideas and approaches.” It also ensures that Duke will get a whole lot of extra summer sessions worth of tuition. Don’t be fooled, universities are businesses too. You already have to overload twice to fit 34 courses into eight semesters. Try taking three language classes, three arts and literatures, a couple natural sciences and a math all while fulfilling your public policy major and dance minor without ever ending up on Central Campus for summer vacation. I’ll rename this one “Extra Cash for Pointless Class.”

“Self Segregation.” Perhaps my personal favorite, I heard this for the first time when I came to Duke. Apparently, it only applies to black students, occurring when large groups of them hang out together on Central Campus or, even worse, in plain daylight on West Campus! A threat to the University community at large, this has been targeted by student groups and addressed by University officials. By popular definition, it seems to occur whenever three or more black students gather at a time, with few or no non-black students around. Rather than “Self Segregation,” I think a better title to pinpoint the problem many have when these situations arise is “Who’s the Minority Now?”

“Linking.” The name most commonly associated with the new housing policies, is another good one. The popular story is that L.Mo and the administrators looked around one day, saddened and moved to action by “lack of community,” and forged this plan, whose name is chock full of imagery and general feelings of togetherness. I am somehow inclined to believe they were more like pissed at upperclassmen’s flight to cheaper off-campus apartments and pressured by flack Duke was getting for minorities flocking to Central. Linking fosters sustained bonds and community interaction, but what if you dislike everyone you lived with freshman year or happened to make great friends with someone from another dorm? You are then punished with a lower lottery number and banished to Edens with all the other kids who like to choose their own friends. And all of this means (surprise, surprise) more bucks for Duke. One guaranteed year’s worth of West Campus room and board from everyone, rather than the cheaper Central Campus fee, and a guaranteed three years of housing from all. I call this one “Show me the Money!”… umm, I mean community.

With all this terminology around it’s easy to get lost in translation. My advice is don’t always judge things at face or, more importantly, name value.

Shakespeare’s Romeo once said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But I wondered today as I watched the casualty rates rise on the evening news in the name of “Iraqi Freedom,” if we all took a good look at these newly named roses, would they really smell as sweet? Or, as Outkast cleverly suggested, when we lean a little closer, will those roses really smell like “boo, boo, boo?”


Amelia Herbert is a Trinity senior.


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