It is useful when considering politics, including racial politics and sexual politics, to be aware of cheer words and boo words. As an example of a cheer word, the philosopher Jamie Whyte gives “justice”, where “what it means is not perfectly clear but, whatever someone takes it to mean, he will think it’s a good thing”. Boo words are the opposite of cheer words, an example being “racism”. What this means is not entirely clear, but whatever it is, it’s bad.
The sort of meaning that is unclear in cheer words and boo words is what the linguist Geoffrey Leech calls conceptual meaning, which is meaning as we normally think of it: that which tells us what a word denotes. It contrasts with various other sorts of meaning, including what Leech calls affective meaning, which expresses the speaker’s attitude to what is being talked about. It is characteristic of cheer words and boo words that while their conceptual meanings are elusive and weak, their affective meanings — positive for cheer words and negative for boo words — are evident and strong, so strong in many cases as to overwhelm their conceptual meanings. Thus even if one were to specify, no matter how carefully and laboriously, a concept of racism that made racism excusable, one would not get far using the word in this sense, which would be defeated by the word’s negative affective meaning. This is as certain as it is that no matter how one defined justice, any argument saying that this was something a society could have too much of would fail because of the word’s positive affective meaning. The tendency of cheer words and boo words to elicit a cheer or a boo is built into them, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
It follows that cheer and boo words are of little use in rational conversation unless their conceptual meanings are specified — and, for practical purposes, specified in such a way as to line up with their affective meanings. Otherwise it will be impossible for anyone to be sure, or at least for everyone to agree, what is being discussed, while their affective meanings will arouse emotions not necessarily grounded in any conceptual material that might have been conveyed. If you want to be understood, it is better to use words with known and accepted conceptual meanings. If you do not want to be understood, on the other hand, but wish to befuddle and mislead, perhaps because you are a politician or a demagogue, you will find cheer words and boo words just the ticket. They enable you to gain support without saying anything or to get your audience to cry out against things you have not identified.
As Geoffrey Leech puts it: “the greatest dangers to intelligent communication come with cases where the affective meaning becomes a major part of, if not the whole of, the message”. Therefore statements such as that one intends to promote justice or stands firm against racism in all its forms, which we hear all the time, are not in the business of intelligent communication. They are in effect tautologies, saying little more than that the speaker favours the good and is against the bad.
Cheer words and boo words do not necessarily just exist but can be created. This involves minimising a word’s conceptual meaning and maximising its affective meaning, but it can only be done by a meaning maker, such as a parent vis à vis a child or the mass media vis à vis a society. We can trace the process whereby the media, over a period of fifty years, turned the word “racism” from denoting a degree of aversion to people of other races, which is pretty much a human universal, into the worst of sins, which can ruin a person’s life if detected in them while being hard or impossible to define.
Minimising the word’s conceptual meaning occurred almost automatically, by a process known as concept creep. If it is bad to be averse to people purely because of their race, as might be generally accepted, and if one sees oneself as the nation’s moral legislator, as the media see themselves, one will be tempted to apply the word to anything that can be done regarding race of which one disapproves, from where one will proceed to apply it to anything else regarding race that one wants to stop people doing. Eventually the word will denote so many different things, some the opposites of others, such as treating people differently by race and failing to do so, that it might as well mean nothing.
Maximising a word’s affective meaning is accomplished by modelling the desired reaction to it. Thus commentators, when mentioning something they want people to deplore, act as though anyone would be scandalised that such a thing might be done, thereby telling their audience that it would be wrong to do it. When people start being punished for offending, as when a White character in a soap opera is shunned for mocking something said by a Black character, or when a White contributor to a discussion is hissed at by the rest of the studio audience for expressing concerns about the behaviour of Black youth, the viewing audience sees that the offence is serious. This goes on without the media needing at any point to explain what is supposed to be wrong with the behaviour being condemned. Reason doesn’t come into it as they shepherd the public into the desired moral position.
To sum up the process of making a word a cheer or boo word, it is essentially a matter of creating a conditioned reflex. By multiplying the word’s conceptual meanings to the point of disappearance and making its affective meaning massively predominant, the meaning maker causes us to associate its mere sound with the idea of goodness or badness, and so we feel joyful anticipation or disapproval and revulsion as the case may be. In doing these things the meaning maker follows Ivan Pavlov, who conditioned his dogs to associate the sound of a bell with the idea of being fed, which made them salivate. We end up reacting to the stimulus automatically, our thinking minds playing no part.
The case of an expression like “anti-Semitism” is slightly different in that this has a determinate conceptual meaning, which it wears on its face. As long as we ignore the fact that Arabs are Semites too, we can see that it means being against or disliking Jews. To make “anti-Semitism” a boo word it was therefore necessary to concentrate mainly on maximising its affective meaning, which is to say conditioning us to see disliking Jews as bad, in contrast to disliking the French or Germans, say, which we could continue to do with impunity. This again was accomplished by modelling, not by reason, as can be confirmed by reflecting that we have never heard an argument to say why disliking Jews is bad: that is, unless you call it an argument to suggest should this sentiment arise in us it would mean that we wanted to exterminate the race, for having misgivings about the behaviour of Jews, we have been encouraged to believe, would be equivalent to commissioning the construction of gas chambers.
Thus the media place Jews in a special class simply by acting as though they were in one, and we pick the idea up. It is the same back-to-front process as with “racism”, whereby we accept that something is bad because we see it disapproved of rather than disapproving of it because we think it is bad: a process that can occur because we accept the authority of the media or other meaning maker. Once “anti-Semitism” is established as a boo word, it is too late to enquire what Jews have done to deserve their special status. How dare one ask the question when Jews are such special people?
According to a count of all the words used in books published between 1960 and 2019, “anti-Semitism” is top dog among racial boo words, coming far ahead even of “racism”, let alone such comparatively paltry failings as xenophobia and White supremacy. So while racism in general is bad, this particular variety of it is gigantically bad, which might have something to do with the fact that the mass media and publishing industry are largely owned by Jews.
As the gold standard of racial badness, and indeed of all possible badness, anti-Semitism acts as the measure of other offences, so that it is asked, for example, whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. People have gone on demonstrations holding placards saying that it is not. If they are mistaken, then anti-Zionism is a no-no, whereas if they are correct it is OK. What can never be doubted is that anti-Semitism is as bad as bad can be.
Since the expression has a determinate conceptual meaning, it behooves Jews to make this as comprehensive as possible. The more it covers, the more we can be condemned for doing and hence the more we can be controlled, not just by Jews but by others on their behalf. Thus in 2016 the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) produced a document defining the offence. This document, which shows that it is not for nothing that Jews are known for being clever with words, justifies a digression.
It starts by quoting the Stockholm Declaration of 1972, which presupposed that humanity was still scarred by anti-Semitism and stated that the international community had a solemn responsibility to fight this evil. The scars presumably still existing 44 years later, or seventy-odd years after the event the IHRA exists to remember, the suggestion is that the countries of the world still have this responsibility. Thus the IHRA seeks to get the rest of the world to side with Jews against their enemies.
The document describes its definition of anti-Semitism as only a working one, yet its authors wanted governments and other bodies to sign up to it in its presumably provisional form. The bodies duly complied, including the British government, which adopted the definition promptly, followed eventually by the Labour party, both of which therefore committed themselves to a form of words that might avowedly change at a later date.
According to the oft-cited definition, anti-Semitism is “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews”. What perception this might be the document does not say. What does it mean by hatred? Again it doesn’t say, so we can suppose that hatred could be a strong aversion, such as some people feel for cabbage, or perhaps a tendency to disagree with Jews, as when those who disagree with transgender activists are said to hate transgenders. Then again it could be the sort of thing that makes one embark on a programme of genocide. All the definition really says is that anti-Semitism is an unspecified perception.
To fill out this rather minimal concept, the document provides examples of anti-Semitism, the first being “the targeting of the state of Israel”. It concedes, however, that criticising Israel isn’t necessarily anti-Semitic. If the criticism is “similar to that levelled against any other country”, it can be legitimate. In other words, as long as Israel behaves no worse than other countries, it can be criticised, but if it goes further, the excess must pass without comment.
Rather than considering whether anti-Semitism might be provoked by things Jews do, the document describes it as a tool used by presumably appalling people to accomplish further ends, such as charging Jews with conspiring to harm humanity. Anti-Semitism is also, according to the document, “often used to blame Jews for ‘why things go wrong’”. The implication that one has a perception or emotion for a purpose, intending to “use” it, rather than perceptions and emotions just arising, supports the idea that having them can make one guilty.
The document reifies anti-Semitism, seeing it as something that goes round doing things. For example, anti-Semitism “employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits”. Naughty anti-Semitism! How could it employ negative character traits when the Jewish character, as is well known, has no flaws?
Other examples include alleging that Jews control the media, which is a “mendacious”, “dehumanising” and “demonising” idea and moreover a “myth” and “stereotype”. This verbal outburst rather suggests that Jews do control the media, or why would the IHRA protest so excessively that they do not? To see how excessive the protest is, one might ask how it can be mendacious, dehumanising or demonising to say that somebody controls something.
It would also be anti-Semitic, according to the document, to deny the fact, scope or mechanisms of the holocaust, which again might raise the question of how well the official version of this event could withstand impartial investigation. Otherwise, why try to deter such investigation? Also we know that in practice not only denying these aspects of the holocaust would be regarded as anti-Semitic but also merely questioning them. On top of this it would be anti-Semitic, says the IHRA, to accuse Jews of exaggerating the holocaust, which means that it can be anti-Semitic to state what appears to be a plain fact, for Jews still make their six-million claim more than thirty years after the number killed at Auschwitz alone was officially reduced by almost three million.
Nor must we say that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the other countries in which they may live. American Jews, that is, are no more loyal to Israel than they are to America, which may be doubted in view of the passionate comments made by such American Jews as Ben Shapiro about Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.
Scrutiny of the IHRA’s document thus perhaps reveals more about Jews than it does about their critics, making one wonder whether Joseph Sobran was not right to say that an anti-Semite is not someone who dislikes Jews so much as it is someone Jews don’t like.
Especially notable about the document is the fact that at no point does it explain in any reasonable fashion what is wrong with disliking Jews. For example, if it is anti-Semitic to say that Jews control the media, so what? What is wrong with saying that Jews control the media? Attempting to justify the idea that this is bad in terms of dehumanisation and so forth is silly. The document defines a boo word purely on the strength of the fact that it is already a boo word, relying on our existing conditioning to make us accept that we mustn’t do whatever it describes as anti-Semitic.
Coming out of the digression, we can note that when a word has enough conceptual meaning for different opinions to be possible as to whether what it denotes is good or bad, it can be a cheer or boo word for some but not for others. Thus “equality” is a cheer word for many. No one who advocates something in the name of equality needs to say equality in what respect or even necessarily equality between what or whom to raise a cheer from such people. The mere word, with no referent attached to it, is enough. But those who find variety the spice of life or are aware of the horrors that have been wrought by history’s equalisers have less time for equality. This difference of opinion is possible because when all is said and done we know what “equality” means conceptually, namely sameness, and opinions differ as to whether this is desirable. The difference of opinion is also made possible by the fact that the media have yet to complete the process of making “equality” a universal cheer word, at which point every last person will be a mindless devotee of this supposedly glorious ideal.
The power of cheer words and boo words to affect our thinking is illustrated by the word “freedom”. Being a cheer word, this is used in the most preposterous ways, which we unthinkingly accept. Rousseau’s statement that man is born free yet everywhere is in chains strikes many people as a profound truth, yet what could possibly be less free than a new-born baby, which is utterly dependent on its mother? “Free at last!” is something everyone wants to be able to cry, yet who really wants to be free? About the most appealing thing a woman can say to a man is that she is his, to do with as he wills. She doesn’t want to be free but will be only too happy if he takes her on, makes all the difficult decisions and takes responsibility for all the disasters. Every day we see how women value freedom less than security, nor are men necessarily that fond of it. Who wants to go to work and be allowed to do as he likes? One wants a boss to deprive one of that freedom and tell one what to do. Yet another fact that shows how limited can be the attractions of freedom is that in America many emancipated slaves returned to their erstwhile owners asking to be taken back. The idea that we innately and always love freedom is a delusion, created in part by the word’s cheer factor.
The conclusion of this discussion must be that it is good to be aware of how we have been conditioned to react in certain ways to certain words. This awareness is needed if we are to undo the conditioning and think. We should also be aware that the media and other meaning makers are at this moment trying to condition us or to intensify our existing conditioning. Their goal is to put our minds out of action. We shouldn’t let them.
 Jamie Whyte, 2005, A Load of Blair, London: Corvo, p. 48. Jamie Whyte calls cheer words hooray words.
 The categories of cheer words and boo words overlap with those called purr words and snarl words by S. I. Hayakawa in Language in Thought and Action (1949). “Democratic”, for example, is both a cheer word and a purr word. “Fascist” is both a boo word and a snarl word.
 Geoffrey Leech, 1981 (1974), Semantics: the Study of Meaning, 2nd. ed. Harmondsworth: Penguin, p. 15.
 Ibid., p. 45.
 Note incidentally that the formulation “racism in all its forms” seeks to evade not one but many tasks of definition.
 Nick Haslam et al, 2020, “Harm inflation: making sense of concept creep”, European Review of Social Psychology, Vol. 31, No. 1.
 The original document no longer seems to be available online. The text and some illustrative examples can be found at https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/resources/working-definitions-charters/working-definition-antiSemitism.
 The Labour party adopted the definition two years after the Conservatives “after a long struggle against a fierce campaign in its favour” (Morgan Jones, Sept. 4th 2019, “Labour’s Fictitious Anti-Semitism Problem”, https://www.unz.com/article/labours-fictitious-anti-Semitism-problem/).
 In 1990 a plaque at Auschwitz stating that four million people were killed there was replaced by one reducing the figure to 1.1 million.
 In “The day freedom came” (1901), Booker T. Washington described the gloom that descended on many former slaves when they realised that they would now have to provide for themselves. Gradually, he reported, the older ones began to go back to the “big house” to have whispered conversations as to their future (included by Christopher Ricks and William A. Vance in The Faber Book of America, 1994, London: Faber and Faber, pp. 198-99).