Alliteration Alert: It’s election time!


by Peter Paskale

How do you choose which candidate to vote for? I’ll bet you go into the booth, earnestly scratch your head, and muse:

“Now which of these candidates do I most fervently disagree with? Ah – yes – this guy or gal – they really upset me! I’ll vote for them!”

No? You don’t? Why in that case you must be voting for a candidate that you agree with! It sounds like you might even be voting for someone who agrees with your values! And that makes you, my friend, a Values Voter! And for many of us, this news will come as something of a surprise – not having been invited to that big political summit of our fellow Values Voters that took place this weekend in D.C. Maybe the invite is still in the mail?

Phrases like Values Voter and Moral Majority are badges of political honour, worn with pride by certain sections of the electorate. Look a little closer though and you’ll spot an interesting fact about these terms – they are completely meaningless.

Everybody who votes, votes on their values, and therefore everybody is a values voter.

Most people in this world are moral thank goodness, and therefore there is, of course, a moral majority.

Both labels are truisms – statements that while sounding true and occasionally profound, actually say nothing at all. So how come both of these junk-phrases have gained so much traction?

It’s because they are great political examples of alliteration – the art of taking two words that begin with the same letter and then sticking them side-by-side. Think of “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” and you’ve got alliteration taken to extremes by small children. Think of Batman and Robin – the Caped Crusaders – and you have alliteration in comic books. Think of Kit-Kat or Coca-Cola and you have it in famous brands. Think of the mainstream media and you have it in the folks who bring us the news.

Alliteration is everywhere, and it’s function is to create catchy soundbites. When used to denote groups of people however, something a little unpleasant starts to happen. That sheer catchiness creates a profoundly polarising smugness. For example, if you come to think of yourself as being part of the “moral majority”, then your neighbour who possibly doesn’t agree with you, can only be part of an “immoral minority”. If you see yourself as a part of an exclusive sect called “values voters”, then you must have a pretty judgemental view on the voting habits of the rest of us.

A good political alliteration will seize the soundbite and spice a speech. JFK knew this and used alliteration to deliver empowering phrases such as “let us go forth and lead the land we love” and “a grand and global alliance”. More recently though, it seems to be used to divide and conquer.

As we enter the final weeks of campaigning for the mid-terms and many a speech is made, let’s listen out for those alliterations and ask ourselves if this is a phrase designed to inspire the electorate, or to divide us? When we can answer that question, we start to gain insight into the true, unstated values of the candidate.

Voting on the true, interior values of the candidate? Now that’s being a values voter.

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