“Talibans of Austerity”

A sentence in the French newspaper Le Monde recently caught my eye: Il y aura toujours des talibans de l’austérité, there will always be the Talibans of austerity. It was uttered by the economist Jean Pisani-Ferry in an interview in the newspaper about the crisis in the Euro zone, and it made me think at once of the Confucian dictum in the Analects that the first task necessary in restoring a polity to health is the rectification of language. Words must be used correctly, for if they are not moral collapse follows.

Some linguists might object that the meaning of words shifts and is never absolutely fixed: for example, if enough people use the word disinterested to mean uninterested, then the word disinterested actually comes to mean uninterested, and the fact that it thereafter becomes difficult to express succinctly what the word disinterested once meant is quite beside the point. Will disinterestedness itself disappear just because the word for it disappears? Reasonable people might disagree as to the answer.

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