Two of the best kept secrets of World War II were one: the United States and its allies had broken the Japanese Naval Code and two: the British were in possession of the German Enigma machine, which decoded the military strategy of the German High Command.

Today, we don’t need U.S. Naval personnel combing through hours of intercepted radio transmissions from Admiral Yamato’s fleet, or to discover some strange looking machine that one can input a series of numbers and letters and then decipher there is a Panzer Division moving through the Ardennes. All we have to do is take out our Orwell to English dictionaries and get started. 

There are lots of codes out there to be had, words that seem to mean one thing but mean something else, depending on the context and the audience that is sending and receiving.

Take the rainbow. It was God’s code first. He used it to signify that as necessary as the Great Flood may have been, he was sending the rainbow to Earth as a promise that he wasn’t going to fix things that way again. God fixes things all the time, sometimes on a big scale, most times on a small, more personal scale…but he always fixes things.

“Choice” is another codeword. It’s a good word standing on its own. It lets people choose the Beatles over [PLACE NAME OF CURRENT BOY BAND HERE] and that’s a good thing. But when “choice” is code for the wanton destruction of innocent pre-born human life, it’s as deadly a word as any general order that ever came from Field Marshall Wilhem Keitle or General Hideko Tojo.

How about Planned Parenthood? That sounds like good old-fashioned American common sense in action. Who doesn’t want to plan to become a parent? Who doesn’t want to ensure that all our ducks are in a row so that a new life can be welcomed with loving open arms? Almost conjures images of white picket fences and Norman Rockwell paintings of suburban American bliss. 

Most Planned Parenthood “clinics” are in well-kept office complexes next door to your local notary or mortgage brokerage firm — American commerce going forth and conquering. 

Only a couple of things wrong with  this picture and most anyone who is reading this is already fully aware of them. The name of this organization is code for the abortion industrial complex and besides, babies don’t really care if they are planned or unplanned anyway. And “planning” so thoroughly that which in the end belongs to God, is hubris…and besides, babies have been interrupting plans since the eviction notice was posted on the gates of the Garden of Eden.

College campuses are full of code talkers. “Safe spaces” are only “safe” depending on what “space” is being occupied and what the occupant may believe about a certain hot political or social topic. If it is deemed too offensive, the only thing certain is somebody’s First Amendment rights are not going to be safe. And even the word “offensive” has become a relative term, as a random reading of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the commons area of any public or private university in the U.S. is probably going to engender a parade of pitchforks and torches.

I guess we can surmise our earliest ancestors began the whole language experiment starting off with code. They had to come up with abstracts: images and sounds to represent what they saw. Cave paintings were followed by hieroglyphics and on and on it goes until “Valley Girl” language was developed, and Darwin was proved wrong about the natural progress of things. But the devolving of language as it relates to our modern popular culture is a serious subject. And “codification” of our language is detrimental to the truth and to ourselves.

College campuses may just be the root of the problem. In a 2015 article from some very academic sounding website called The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, it was reported that “only four of 52 universities and liberal-arts colleges ranked highest by U.S. News & World Report required their English majors to take a class delving into Shakespeare.”

It’s a wonder we can communicate with one another at all these days. Muddled language leads to bad things. Don’t believe me, then listen to the words of the guy 48 out of the top 52 liberal arts school students won’t learn anything about: “Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven” (Henry VI, Part II). 


Robert Brennan is a weekly columnist for Angelus online and in print. His column Ad Rem won second place in the “Best regular column: Arts, leisure, culture, and food” category at the Catholic Press Awards in 2019. He has written for many Catholic publications, including National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He spent 25 years as a television writer, and is currently the Director of Communications for the Salvation Army California South Division.

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