March 13, 2024

The Political Misuse of Language

Event Series: Free Speech at the Crossroads: International Dialogues

Showing the The Political Misuse of Language Video

“Get Brexit Done.” “Stop the Boats.” “Make America Great Again.” A long cry from a "Kinder, Gentler Nation" and “New Labour, New Britain,” these simple yet profound recent slogans have not only resonated with certain voters throughout the West; they have also become some of the most dominating political messages of the day. But while memorable catch phrases are a sign of success for political strategists, rhetoric has become increasingly polarized. Whether it’s former President Donald Trump dishing out insults and writing off indictments against him as “witch hunts,” former Prime Minister Boris Johnson lying about breaking COVID-19 lockdown rules, or other leaders fomenting fear and outrage among their base, tensions have grown. And misinformation and disinformation have added fuel to the fire. Can the West rein in and mitigate the epidemic of inflammatory rhetoric and dishonesty that has pervaded politics? Or are lies and petty clashes the new normal for political communication?

This event is co-sponsored by the Free Speech Project (Georgetown University) and the Future of the Humanities Project (Georgetown University and Blackfriars Hall and Campion Hall, Oxford).


John Drakakis, emeritus professor of English studies at the University of Stirling in Scotland, holds a Ph.D from the University of Leeds, as well as an honorary D.Litt. from the University of Clermont-Auvergne. He has published many articles in learned journals and chapters in books on Shakespeare, Jacobean literature and drama, media studies, modern critical theory, and cultural studies. He is a fellow of the English Association and an elected member of the Academia Europoea.

Ian Finlay is a fellow of Harris Manchester College at the University of Oxford. He has educational qualifications in social sciences, education, and theology. Before coming to Oxford, Ian taught at the University of Strathclyde and a college in Dundee, where he served as a city councilor. At Oxford, he taught education and political sociology. 

Jessica Mudry chairs the School of Professional Communication at Toronto Metropolitan University in Canada. She was an organic chemist, after which she moved to science communication, media production, and research for the BBC and the Discovery Channel. She continues to create for the annual World Congress of Science and Factual Producers, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Her scholarship focuses on the languages of science, health, and medicine in politics and popular culture.

Deborah Tannen is a distinguished university professor in the Department of Linguistics at Georgetown University. In addition to her 17 academic books and over 100 scholarly articles, she has written eight books for a general audience. The best known is You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (1990), which brought gender differences in communication style to the forefront of public awareness and was on the New York Times best-seller list for nearly four years.

Michael Scott (moderator) is senior dean, fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, college adviser for postgraduate students, and a member of the Las Casas Institute. He also serves as senior adviser to the president of Georgetown University. Scott previously was the pro-vice-chancellor at De Montfort University and founding vice-chancellor of Wrexham Glyndwr University.

Sanford J. Ungar (moderator), president emeritus of Goucher College, is director of the Free Speech Project at Georgetown University, which documents challenges to free expression in American education, government, and civil society. Director of the Voice of America under President Bill Clinton, he was also dean of the American University School of Communication and is a former co-host of "All Things Considered" on NPR.