Saturday, May 17, 2008

Word of the Week: conflate

I was watching Bill Moyers Journal the other day and one of his guests, Christopher Edley, used a word I’d never head before: conflate. Curios about the word, I jotted it down and looked it up afterward. Here’s how my dictionary (Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th ed.)) defines it:

conflate: to combine or mix (two variant readings into a single text, etc.)

After looking up the word, I went on Bill Moyers Journal’s web site to see if I could find some background about Christopher Edley. (I had missed the introduction on the show.) Turns out he’s dean of the law school at the University of California at Berkeley. (I was pretty sure he was an academic, I just didn’t know what discipline.)

On the web site there’s a video of the discussion and the transcript. I scrolled through the transcript to find conflate because I wanted to see whether I could tell what it meant from the context in which Edley used it. Here’s the relevant section:

CHRIS EDLEY: I believe that she [Hillary Clinton] conflated two different ideas. She conflated the campaign rhetoric about hard-working Americans with the dry demographic analysis of the voting patterns. And she stuck those two things together in a simple phrase, which made it seem uglier than anything that was in her heart. …”

Had I read this instead of just heard it, I probably wouldn’t have had to look the word up, as Dean Edley pretty much defined it for us. Neat, eh?

Mind you, though I’m featuring conflate as Word of the Week, I’m not suggesting you necessarily make it part of your everyday vocabulary. I say keep it for special occasions -- like the next time you find yourself chatting with Bill Moyers.


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