Word Watch: Sanctuary City

Friday, August 24, 2007


In the parlance of Republican-primary politics, “sanctuary” – as in sanctuary city – has become a bad word. In our occasional series we call Word Watch, ABC News political correspondent Jake Tapper and linguist Geoffrey Nunberg explain how a term rooted in religion was turned into an epithet.

Comments [4]

Kimberly Macher from USA

Frank Luntz, whom I disdain by the way, orchestrated this word thing for the Neo-Cons. They hired him to be their wordologist of sorts. He even wrote a book about this word thing. It's how you"frame" the subject and idea you are promoting. It's what you are hearing to form the pictures in your mind, he confesses to see things the way they"The Neocons" want you to. Sanctuary now seems to to be one of those buzz words that sends up the Neocons red flag word alerts. When they hear it...it draws confusion in their brains as to what anyone means by that word has come to mean now. Tomorrow it'll be another word. This is all of course accidentally on purpose to instill a sense of mass confusion into their dictionary heads. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes it's codespeak for some Orwellian doublespeaking forked tongue agenda. Ask Frank Luntz. He wrote the book.

Sep. 14 2007 01:44 PM
Emerson Schwartzkopf from Palm Springs, CA

The problem with this rather slanted look at the use of "sanctuary" is that the word may have started as a positive religious term, but it's already been fully placed in the secular vocabulary. The term "wildlife sanctuary," for example, sure sounds positive, but that use alone takes the word fully out of its religious context -- in fact, under a strict religious interpretation, it could denote animals as deity, which would be blasphemous.

Yes, that's extreme, but that's using the same kind of strict filter that's been used in the report. And, in the course of the report, nothing was said about governments (such as those in Newark, New York, San Francisco, etc.) adopting the term; isn't this co-opting "sanctuary" out of its religious identity?

We've had many, many terms move from the religious to the secular and don't think twice about possible perjorative connotations. "Bible" denotes a holy book for millions upon millions of people in the United States, but who thinks twice about lumping it with words to create offensive terms ("the bomber's bible," "the terrorist's bible") and the argument is, "well, it's OK now because everybody else does it." And when is the last time anyone's used "Bible Belt" for anything except conjuring up an image of a group of conservative, ignorant and intolerant people?

This week's Word Watch = Cheap Shot. It was coming when that rather mocking emphasis on "the Lord" came at the start, and it didn't get any better.

Aug. 29 2007 11:10 AM
Andrew S. from Sunnyvale, CA

Mr. Garfield wonders how it is that a generally positive word, "Sanctuary", aquired such negative connotations.

Just a wild guess, here. But maybe it had something to do with the fact that an activist movement used the word "sanctuary" for an activity that was highly unpopular with the population at large?

Just an idea you may want to consider!

Aug. 27 2007 03:53 AM
Mike from NYC

Geoffrey Nunberg: Jack Abramoff is not referred to as an 'illegal'. He's been convicted of crimes and is referred to as a criminal. Should illegal aliens be referred to as 'criminals' because they're breaking the law by being here? No, because they've never been convicted of a crime. Does their criminality rise to the level that they should be tried? Should people who drive 5 mph over the speed limit be prosecuted? These are decisions that prosecutors must make. Equating the 'illegal' status of some immigrants to Jack Abramoff's criminality only demonstrates your low level of analytical skills and insults the graduates of the venerated institution that employs you and the radio hosts who give you a platform.

Aug. 25 2007 07:40 AM

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