Words That Don’t Matter

Victor Davis Hanson // Private Papers

From time to time, I’ll try to update our contemporary American vocabulary.


This noun and its adjective have lost all currency. Ostensibly, diversity assumes that variety in general is better than uniformity. In some cases, perhaps it is, although the Japanese, for example, might argue their homogenous society avoids many of the problems in contemporary America. And after all our original motto of uniting states into the union was e pluribus unum, not ex uno plures.

“Diverse” has become a very narrowly defined adjective. It means solely different from white, male, Christian, and heterosexual—such as Latinos, blacks, women in general, Muslims or Buddhists, and transgendered and homosexuals. In other words, the “diverse” community comprises about 67-70 percent of America; the non-diverse, and supposedly dominant enemy of diversity, is only about 30-33 percent of the population. Under no circumstances can diversity imply hopes for political heterodoxy in hiring or admissions. Instead, political diversity is supposed to be as incendiary as racial diversity is calming.

Privilege/White Privilege

This buzzword implies that 90 percent of citizens at the Founding were of Northern European (e.g., English, Scots-Irish) descent and rigged the country to favor their interests in perpetuity against a series of much different immigrants (Irish, Catholics, Jews, Eastern Europeans, Asians, etc.) as well as Native Americans and blacks. The word is data-free and cannot withstand cross-examination that might suggest that lots of groups (e.g., Punjabis, Koreans, Japanese, etc.), who are markedly different in appearance and religion from the founding norms, enjoy a great deal of wealth, status, and influence. 

Usually elite whites and minorities with privilege use the term “privileged” to castigate middle class and poor whites without it (e. g, “dregs,” “deplorables,” “Neanderthals,” “clingers,” “chumps,” etc.) As a rule of thumb, those who accuse others of having “privilege” or even “white privilege,” enjoy it, or something comparable to it, themselves. 

Recently the adjective “unearned” has been attached. But its use is usually confined to scripted and public self-serving apologies, such as the sort that deans, provosts, and college presidents offer—as in “I have been the beneficiary of unearned privilege….” Such usage is meant to deflect the incoming fire of woke mobs and hysterias to someone else, through the use of preemptive and empty confessionals that do not entail any sacrifice or concrete concessions or proof of contrition.


The inflation and promiscuity in the use of these once critical nouns and adjectives render them now empty and without meaning. If everyone and everything are racist, then nothing is. Increasingly, calling a person a “racist” is good proof that he is not, but that the accuser likely is. Like “Shut up!” or ‘F—k you!”, “Racist!” is simply an interjection used to end abruptly all conversation. It is as common and empty as the introductory adverb, “Well…,” or the pause word “uh.” Soon we may see people use the word in a similar manner, “Racist, how are things going?” and “Racist, now let’s turn to another subject.” Or, hmmm, racist, racist, racist, hmmm, as I was saying….”

Underserved” or “Marginalized” Community

These adjectives should suggest the pathologies of a geographical area or particular group are not an individual’s or a community’s fault—but largely to be blamed on society at large. Mostly they are euphemisms for “crime-ridden” or “dangerous.”  The charge of ‘underserved” or “marginalized” is frequently lodged but rarely substantiated or documented. Ethnic or minority groups, who perform better on college entrance tests or have higher per capita incomes than do the majority of Americans, or lower crime rates, are rarely, if ever termed “overserved” or “de-marginalized.”

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11 thoughts on “Words That Don’t Matter”

  1. Robert Ostrove

    “Usually elite whites and minorities with privilege use the term “privileged” to castigate middle class and poor whites without it (e. g, “dregs,” “deplorables,” “Neanderthals,” “clingers,” “chumps,” etc.)” You left out the worst of them all — irredeemable. “Now some of those folks, they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.” — Hilary Clinton. Murderers are redeemed; Trump supporters are not.

  2. Thomas Swanson

    There’s nothing like a great father. Thank you for providing your example now; it’s needed.

  3. :John-Finn: Kavanagh.

    No = no.
    Un = no.
    Noun = no no
    Coloring of the law.
    For the babble.
    For the confusion.
    For the no fact or law.
    Food for thought.

  4. When working for a non-profit organization a few decades back, I was asked to update the word “poor” with the word “underserved.” I couldn’t help but point out that resembles “undeserved,” but was told that would be the new language going forward.

  5. August R Greitens

    Professor Hanson,
    I’m deeply concerned about all the people being held prisoner for the January 6 riot.
    From what I understand many are being held in solitary confinement and tortured with little or no access to legal representation. I feel I can’t trust my government for justice. What is this comparable to in history and will their be a correction?

  6. Do you students now understand why Socrates was tried for challenging people to define their words?

  7. Opps…Do your students now understand why Socrates was tried for challenging people to define their words?

  8. I m very appreciate your knowledge and wisdom
    Wish to see more of your articles. Specially about Vietnam war

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