Saturday, April 27, 2019

Unjust Deserts

This opinion piece is not about a miscarriage of justice in the dunes, but about the destructive power of repetition of a particular word: "deserve".

A purveyor of a skin care regimen says that if you have breakouts, you "deserve results" so you should use its products.

A Medicare Advantage plan spokesman querulously says, "I wasn't getting all the benefits I deserve..."

An eloquence of  lawyers promise to "fight for the compensation you deserve", or "the settlement you deserve," or the "results you deserve", or most blatantly, "the money you deserve". One offers representation for "deserving victims".

(For a compendium of collective nouns such as "eloquence of lawyers", look here: )

A laser surgery provider claims that viewers "deserve the difference..." that that provider makes.

"Get the relief you deserve," boasts a circulation boosting product.

"The justice you deserve," promises a body camera marketer.

"... women are standing up for what they deserve..." which turns out to be vaginal lubrication jelly. Ouch.

"You deserve" = "You are entitled".

Why is anyone entitled to flawless skin, silver sneaker gym membership, compensation, relief, the right to video record strangers without their knowledge or permission?  The answer is, one is not entitled. One "deserves" that for which one pays. Those who do not shell out, are by implied definition "undeserving". If some victims are "deserving", by what criteria are other victims not deserving?

Netflix told us, perhaps tongue in cheek, that Frank Underwood was "the leader we deserve". Until he wasn't.  This point was made in a fascinating NY Post article that charts the migration of "deserve" language from product hype to political language.

Well, slogan writing is writing. Speech writing is writing. Awareness of words, their power, and how they are used is the bailiwick of the writer. A writer should be curious and inquisitive. Is the popularity of "deserve" mere imitation, laziness, a tried-and-true signature tag of one advertising house, or could one float a conspiracy theory?

If writing the backstory of a dystopian novel, would one include the concept of "deserve" or something similar to divide and rule, to overthrow and subjugate and stir discord?

Does hearing "you deserve..." tend to make discontented those who cannot afford to buy that (product) which they allegedly would deserve, if they did buy it.

Words, like water, have power to undermine, to create sinkholes, to wear away stone. In this age of television, film, internet, social media, the old saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me," is no longer true.

If you do a search for "Deserve", you will find some pretty ugly posters.

By the way, of the new "words" added to the dictionary last year, perhaps the saddest is TL:DR (too long, did not read).

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

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