Guest Column: Saying what you (don’t) mean

Philip Mogavero

By now, everyone should be quite familiar with Rush Limbaugh’s recent inflammatory comments toward Sandra Fluke regarding birth control, for which he has since apologized and suffered heavy advertising losses.

To be sure, Limbaugh’s rhetoric should hardly be taken seriously by anyone wishing to deal earnestly with such issues. However, considering current public sentiment, I can’t help but observe that there are many who would agree with Limbaugh’s assertion that birth control should not be covered under health insurance because taxpayers should not have to “pay for [women] to have sex.”

I think this opinion is misguided, largely due to murky language.

The pill is universally known simply as a method of birth control — although just one of many types — which is indeed one of its principal functions. However, this language deceptively focuses one’s attention on its use as a contraceptive and ignores the additional medical benefits for which it is often prescribed.

Such benefits include controlling ovarian cysts, regulating and alleviating the symptoms of menstruation and reducing body hair and acne. These are certainly all medical conditions and concerns of varying gravity, and thus eligible for insurance coverage. So why not call it period control or cyst control?

And why not extend the misleading language to men and call drugs like Viagra something like erection recovery?

Comical though it is, the example demonstrates how the term can be equally skewed to emphasize the recreational benefits of the medicine over its more important medical effects, and thus women could use Limbaugh’s own logic to argue out of paying for men’s sexual freedom.

To get really even, they could justify calling men with erectile dysfunction “prostitutes” for wanting to remain sexually active. Of course, as in the case of women using birth control, this erroneously assumes that all men using drugs like Viagra are unmarried and promiscuous.

In any case, once the rhetoric is cleared away, the discrepancy between the word and the concept it describes is obvious.

I certainly don’t hope to change the language used to refer to contraceptives, nor do I believe that politicians and journalists invented and covertly introduced the term birth control into modern speech.

I also do not assume to be original in pointing out any of these problems, and I do not propose any fast solutions to such issues. There are plenty of other very serious problems with Limbaugh’s assertion, not the least of which are moral ones, but I will leave them for other, more competent commentators to elaborate on (Jon Stewart comes to mind).

My purpose here is simply to shed light on the inherent inconsistencies and illogic of the deceptive language very often used to support political and social arguments, therefore rendering those arguments invalid under the slightest scrutiny.

To summarize, I offer a truism: Say what you mean — clearly.

Philip Mogavero is graduate student in translation.