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Rosie Right

The second meaning of this term is given in Webster's New World Collegiate Dictionary, Fourth Edition, as "concealing real purposes or intentions." Of course the term was taken from the fables of Aesop, a Greek who lived in the sixth century B.C. His stories always told you more than their literal words.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term Aesopic language was first used as a description of the language Russian Communists employed "as a device to disguise dissident political writing in allegorical form."

In the preface to Lenin's "Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism," Lenin talks about how he had to avoid tsarist censorship and make political observations "with extreme caution by hints in that Aesopian language — in that cursed Aesopian language to which Czarism compelled all revolutionaries to have recourse whenever they took up their pens to write a 'legal' work."

The practice of speaking and writing in words that convey a meaning through indirection, but which when literally interpreted seem to be bland and/or innocent, certainly has not disappeared. We call them "code words" that, according to PBS' Internet site, "carry vast stereotyped and sometimes unconscious meaning for viewers" of political ads. Good examples of code words and phrases, PBS reports, include:

"Values — Although it's never clear just what values are involved, the implication is that the candidate has them and the opponent doesn't.

"Crime — Many argue that this word involves racial aspects for many viewers.

"Welfare — Another word that is often code for race.

"Yesterday — Not just occurring in the past, but too old, no longer relevant."

Some others we have been hearing:

Washington, D.C., is used to refer to taxes and to the problems that the District has had with its government. It is widely perceived as a reference to race.

Choice — we all know this is a code word for women's reproductive rights.

Life — means anti-abortion to those on the other side of the abortion discussion. In some Southern states choose life is an option for your license plate.

As the political activity heats up again, it would be well for all of us to keep alert for Aesopian games with words.

Let Rosie hear from you by letter, Style Weekly, 1707 Summit Ave., Richmond, Va. 23230; by phone, (804) 358-0825; or by e-mail, repps@styleweekly.com.

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