dog whistler issue

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dog whistler issue

Post by tony h » Tue Aug 02, 2016 10:13 am

This is a new phrase on me and not one I understand. I heard it on a BBC current affairs programme. The article was about whether the amounts paid to presenters on the BBC should be made public. One commentator said : this, for the public, is a dog whistler issue.

I presume it is something to do with a dog-whistle being silent to humans. Any ideas.
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Re: dog whistler issue

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Aug 02, 2016 11:04 am

I hadn't heard the term 'dog-whistler issue' until now, but I assume it is an oblique reference to dog-whistle politics. Wikipedia's similarly titled article explains the term in its introductory paragraphs:

Dog-whistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. The phrase is often used as a pejorative because of the inherently deceptive nature of the practice and because the dog-whistle messages are frequently distasteful to the general populace. The analogy is to a dog whistle, whose high-frequency whistle is heard by dogs but inaudible to humans.

The term can be distinguished from "code words" used in some specialist professions, in that dog-whistling is specific to the political realm. The messaging referred to as the dog-whistle has an understandable meaning for a general audience, rather than being incomprehensible.

When the commentator says "This, for the public, is a dog-whistler issue," I assume they mean that as far as the public is concerned, any discussion regarding the disclosure of the remuneration of BBC presenters is really a proxy discussion that centres on one's approval or disapproval of what the BBC does in general, or of how it is run.
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Re: dog whistler issue

Post by Phil White » Tue Aug 02, 2016 10:32 pm

"Dog whistle politics" is an interesting one. I have the feeling that from the moment it arose some time after the turn of the century, it has led a double life. On the one hand, it has the meaning that Erik and Wikipedia describe, and you will find plenty of examples of this usage in the media. But I believe that most of those who are not, like me, political nerds understand it differently. It seems to mean the use of language and issues designed to trigger an immediate and uncritical positive response from the target audience. Presumably this comes from the belief that dogs respond to a whistle immediately and unthinkingly and return to their owners. (Fat chance!)

Examples in the UK are migration, the NHS, terrorism. Unlike the definition given by Erik, the message is not coded, but explicit. Famous references by David Cameron to "a bunch of migrants" and "swarms of migrants" have been referred to as "dog whistle politics" (for example in this article from the Morning Star). Enoch Powell's infamous "Rivers of Blood" speech has been referred to as "dog whistle politics", and there can scarcely have been a political speech in the UK that was less explicitly racist.

While the principle is similar, it is not the same. There is a common core to the two understandings of the phrase, namely that the response is immediate and largely unthinking. The two understandings differ in respect of whether the message is coded or not.

In terms of Tony's example of a "dog whistler issue", I think the meaning is closer to the second meaning I have given, namely that the whole issue of huge salaries is one that will draw an immediate response from the electorate at the moment. Indeed, it falls into the same category as MPs' expenses and bankers' bonuses, both of which are dog-whistle issues in this sense.
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Re: dog whistler issue

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Jan 23, 2019 4:13 am

<2019 “An energized, inspiring, and ultimately successful foreign policy must cut through Trump’s false, dog-whistling choice between globalism and nationalism.”—The Atlantic, January/February, page78>
I haven’t come across dog-whistle, other than the above quote, since I first saw it in this posting and was surprised to find at Dictionary.com that it took first place as the most searched word on their website for 2018.

Dictionary.com
Dog whistle took the top spot for biggest trend of the year in August, with searches flying up 1,667,250%. With Twitter abuzz over accusations that Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis’ had used a racist slur in reference to competitor Andrew Gillum, Dictionary.com tweeted the meaning of dog whistle that week, shedding light on a new term for many Americans.

A dog whistle is defined as “a political strategy, statement, slogan, etc., that conveys a controversial, secondary message understood only by those who support the message.” When asked about his opponent, who is a man of color, during a Fox News interview, DeSantis said “The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.”
I have a pretty good idea what dog-whistle means from Erik and Phil’s above discussion although I find its exact meaning a bit fuzzy. In fact, the above Dictionary.com example leaves me confused.

They say it is “a political strategy, statement, slogan, etc. that conveys a controversial, secondary message understood only by those who support the message.” In this instance, if the primary message was meant as a slur, which many people seem to believe, than what would be the secondary message only understood by those who support this slur message?

If the primary message was not meant as a slur, but just an inadvertent stupid choice of words, then the secondary message would be the slur on blacks which supposedly would only be understood by them and they would supposedly support the message???
This doesn’t make any sense. Can anyone out there tell me how I am misinterpreting things.
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Re: dog whistler issue

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Jan 23, 2019 5:10 am

Ken, I think the key to decoding this lies in the precise way that DeSantis worded his attack on Andrew Gillum:
When asked about his opponent, who is a man of color, during a Fox News interview, DeSantis said “The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.” ”
The crucial phrase is monkey this up, insofar as many people in DeSantis's audience might (or would be likely to) assume that his use of the word monkey was intended to be a dehumanizing reference to Mr Gillum being a person of colour.

So in this interpretation, the primary message would be DeSantis's criticism of Mr Gillum's 'socialist agenda', and the secondary message would be the racist slur allegedly contained (in a camouflaged form) in the phrase monkey this up.
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Re: dog whistler issue

Post by gdwdwrkr » Wed Jan 23, 2019 12:23 pm

Dog-whistling, as I hear it, can be any kind of verbal trojan-horse, deliberately-delivered or not, in political speech, always an aspect of "framing". Examples I have noticed have been based on the brain's inability to process negatives.
Do not think of elephants.
Be calm and do not riot.
One spoken message.
Another subliminal.

edit:
The term dog-whistle is an example of itself. Humans think it through and respond responsibly. "Animals" react. So the use of the term implies the user into the human camp, and political opponents into the other.

edit:
"He's barking up the wrong tree".
Ha.
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Re: dog whistler issue

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Jan 23, 2019 3:49 pm

gdwdwrkr wrote:
Wed Jan 23, 2019 12:23 pm
The term dog-whistle is an example of itself. Humans think [things] through and respond responsibly. "Animals" react. So the use of the term implies the user into the human camp, and political opponents into the other.
An interesting insight.

The reference to a dog in the term dog-whistle(r) is also noteworthy in the context of what you wrote. Of all the animals that humans have domesticated, the dog probably has the closest relationship with us both emotionally and as an animal that performs useful work. So on the face of it, the choice of the dog as an exemplar of unthinking herdability or unrelatable characteristics seems incongruous: the coiner of the term could just as easily have come up with 'hog-call' as 'dog-whistle' (though there's plenty of evidence that pigs are also pretty intelligent). I suppose the key difference is that a hog call is readily audible to humans, whereas a dog whistle ain't.

Also, as far as I'm aware, hog-calling is much more of a thing in the USA than it is in the UK. So if dog-whistle politics (etc.) was coined here in Britain (which I'm not sure about), then that too would make the choice of the dog more likely.

Finally, the general public is more accustomed to being around dogs than it is pigs, cows, sheep or other livestock.
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Re: dog whistler issue

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Jan 23, 2019 6:29 pm

Thanks Erik. But there's one thing that is still bothering me. In the Dictionary.com definition they say:
"a political strategy, statement, slogan, etc. that conveys a controversial, secondary message understood only by those who support the message.”
They say "only understood by those who support the message." The point in my posting is that the black community, which certainly doesn't support the message would clearly understand the secondary message with its, "monkey this up," as a racist slur by Ron DeSantis’ in reference to competitor Andrew Gillum, a black man, and thus their obvious outrage.
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Re: dog whistler issue

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Jan 23, 2019 7:05 pm

Ken: the point you raise makes the definition given at Dictionary.com somewhat inaccurate. Though DeSantis's dog-whistle message (if that's what it was intended to be) is covert, there's obviously no guarantee that it would only be understood by the voter base DeSantis is trying to reach.

That's particularly the case in this age of social media and political polarization, which have a mutually reinforcing tendency to turn a message that might have gone relatively unnoticed by most people into a raging conflagration within hours or even minutes — until the next controversial tweet sucks away its oxygen and supplants it as a focus of contention or outrage, and so on, for as long as people care to inflame each other and be inflamed.
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Re: dog whistler issue

Post by Phil White » Wed Jan 23, 2019 7:14 pm

It's what I said in my original response. The term "dog whistle politics" is invariably used dismissively to refer to populist politics by people who believe they are above such things. If the term genuinely meant "a controversial, secondary message understood only by those who support the message", the commentators would not be able to understand the message or identify that the message had been sent.

In reality, the term is used to refer to any message (perceived to be unpleasant) that evokes an immediate emotional response in an audience. Because such messages are often controversial, particularly in respect of race and immigration, the words used to elicit the response are often oblique (Trump: "build a wall", Johnson et al: "take back control of our borders"), but can hardly be regarded as coded or only being understood by those who support the message. They are thinly veiled. Just sufficient to avoid the charge of incitement. And they appeal directly to emotion rather than reason. Which is, of course, if one appeals directly to emotions in support of a just cause, the high art of rhetoric...
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Re: dog whistler issue

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Jan 23, 2019 7:30 pm

Thanks Erik and Phil. That Dictionary.com definition seemed to make no sense and was really bugging me.
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Re: dog whistler issue

Post by Shelley » Wed Jan 23, 2019 9:01 pm

So, I was having trouble understanding the intended meaning of "dog whistle" politics/issue, because I was stuck on the kind of dog whistle we were talking about:
1) the device - a whistle, inaudible to humans, which is brought up to the lips and blown, or
2) a short, sharp high note, tweeted by a good whistler, to get the attention of a dog, a buddy, a taxi - very audible to all.

Seems to me, the inaudible kind of whistle comes down on the side of "covert message intended for insiders", and the audible kind comes down on the side of "thinly veiled euphemism designed to get a predictable reaction, thereby rounding up the herd", so to speak.

While I was writing up this post, during many interruptions (I'm at work), you all seem to have reached the conclusion that "dog-whistle" politics/issues refers to the second meaning -- a "call", coded or not, but heard and understood by most, that elicits almost a knee-jerk response. Right?

I like the idea of dog-whistling "inaudible" (meaning hidden) messages to a private group within a larger audience: it appeals to my overactive imagination and paranoia. But in modern journalism, dog-whistling to manipulate the masses seems to make more sense.

Have I waaay over-simplified this?
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Re: dog whistler issue

Post by Phil White » Wed Jan 23, 2019 9:29 pm

I think that sums things up nicely, Shelley. My guess is that the original meaning was the covert message (silent dog whistle), but because it was used almost exclusively in contexts of certain controversial issues, the meaning has moved in most people's understanding to refer to the types of issues whose mere mention, either obliquely or directly elicits exuberant tail wagging and yapping.

But it seems to me that only certain issues that elicit an emotional response are referred to as "dog whistle issues". Foremost among these are "immigration" (appealing to the xenophobic instinct), "law and order" (appealing to the instinct for preservation of self and possessions) and "religion" (appealing to a sense of common values). But there are plenty of others.

However, in the circles in which I move in the North of the UK, I can elicit an immediate and emotional response if I am speaking to a meeting merely by using the words "London" or "Westminster". The emotional response is one of resentment of undeserved power and wealth. But nobody calls that a "dog whistle issue", even though the phenomenon is much the same. But when Trump referred to "Washington" and later "the swamp" in 2016, he was only tapping into the same vein, and yet it was seen as "dog whistling".

As I say, if you are on the right side of the argument, it is "rhetoric". If you are on the wrong side, it is "dog whistling".
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Re: dog whistler issue

Post by tony h » Thu Jan 24, 2019 12:49 pm

Interesting, in part because of the lack of clarity. Is there a word to describe speech that is deliberately framed to sound as though something concrete is being said but actually doesn't commit to anything at all?

May I now suggest two coinages:

1. wolf whistle politics - a policy that seems immediately attractive but is not practical or economically supportable.
2. cat whistle politics - a pet policy promoted but fails to garner interest.


(I haven't checked to see if these already exist!)
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Re: dog whistler issue

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Jan 25, 2019 3:39 am

tony h wrote:
Thu Jan 24, 2019 12:49 pm
Is there a word to describe speech that is deliberately framed to sound as though something concrete is being said but actually doesn't commit to anything at all?
Tony, you have uncapped a gusher here. :D

My general list of such terms would include waffle/waffling [British English], B.S., ducking and diving, equivocation, pretzel logic, sophistry, fudging and hedging, and the closely related semantics, {dodging / ducking / evading / sidestepping} the question and {gilding / polishing} turds. (Note that semantics is also a specialist term in linguistics.)

Otherwise, it depends somewhat on the context. From politicians, you will also hear meaningless rhetoric, empty promises, deliberate obfuscation, grandiose statements, duplicitous bullshit, grandstanding drivel and too many other possibilities to list.

In an art gallery, the informational placards for artists' statements usually feature arty bollocks.

By the way, I enjoyed your wolf whistle politics and cat whistle politics. :)

PS — After Googling the term "wolf whistle politics", I ran across an interesting 2017 article by Naomi Wolf in The New Republic about the pushback from many American women against the rampant, blatant misogyny in the Trumpian bear garden that is the current US political arena. Wolf attributes the coinage of the term to former Texas state senator Wendy Davis in a speech she gave at Princeton in 2015, in which Davis invokes connotations whose emphasis differs from yours:
In her Princeton speech, Wendy Davis likened wolf whistle politics to the coded signaling of “dog whistle politics,” which scholar Ian Haney Lopez used to characterize racist political pandering, as exemplified by Richard Nixon’s infamous Southern strategy. But where dog whistling is covert and happens at a pitch that can’t be heard by many, wolf whistling is right there in your face. Wolf whistling is an undisguised lasciviousness that condones and informs, Davis asserts, “the sexualized nature in which women candidates and women’s issues are often framed.” Women candidates, Davis notes, are viciously and openly sexualized with impunity. She talks about how she was targeted with sexualized imagery to demean her during her senatorial bid. As she points out, “the ploy works, so why stop?”
Coincidentally or not, Naomi Wolf is also the author of a book titled Wolf Whistle Politics.

I found only two relevant hits for "cat whistle politics". The first occurrence is an answer by someone calling themselves 'Miss N. Has a Broken Heart' to a tweet by 'Clay Shirky' that states "We need a word for the reverse of dog-whistle politics, messages that get ignored by most voters, but turn off the ones who hear them".

The second occurrence is in a discussion (circa 2015) deconstructing the problematic politics of the film The Lion King. It's a bit too complicated to describe here, but if you've seen the film you might find some of the points raised provocative.
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