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August 26, 2001 - Peace terms - 2002-01-30

AA: This is Avi Arditti and this week on Wordmaster -- the language of peace. Robert Johansen is a professor at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He says "peace" has a guarded place in the American vocabulary.


"In the U-S context, when you are campaigning in an election you don't usually get more votes by emphasizing peace, at least very much. Now, people don't want to be seen as war mongers or as glorifying war. But usually you get points or you get votes by emphasizing strength."

AA: Professor Johansen says it's easier for Americans to talk about peace when it's associated with personal peace.


"You talk about 'being at peace with yourself' or you talk about 'blessed are the peacemakers.' So it's very positive in those contexts that deal with spiritual or personal inner peace or inter-personal relations. But when you deal with adversarial relations, there we're afraid of the use of the term unless it's sort of coupled with great military strength."

AA: So "peace" does have its uses. Some people sign off letters with it. If a product is supposed to make you feel secure, advertisements promise "peace of mind." "Peace" can even serve as a gentle word of warning.


"Often in US culture, in weddings, there's a time in which the clergy person will say 'speak now or forever hold your peace,' or in other words, 'keep quiet, don't make a stressful situation later on.' Also, we're familiar with the term 'keep the peace.' I looked in the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, and it says there that this term, or set of terms, goes back to the fourteen-hundreds in the English language and it meant to maintain public order."

AA: Another term, to "leave someone in peace," means to leave a person alone.


"Also we talk about making one's peace with a certain situation. It may not be what we had preferred, but we need to 'make our peace' with it.' Or it may be a tragedy. This also goes back centuries and centuries. I think it's interesting that the only ones I can come up with are ones that precede modern military confrontations, and in those contexts there may have been a more level playing field between borrowing terms from the idea of peace to other forms of human activity."

AA: Now speaking of playing fields, it's hard to think of a human activity with fewer peace-inspired metaphors than sports. Yet Professor Johansen says that in American schools, the typical way to build pride is to rally students around the pursuit of victory.


JOHANSEN: "It's far less common to associate school spirit let's say with a spirit of service, of doing maybe service in the community. A lot of schools do that, but it doesn't quite excite people as much as winning a ballgame or being first in one's athletic conference. So these are things that we need to think about and reflect upon."

AA: "Your school, Notre Dame, is home to the 'Fighting Irish,' the sports teams, so I suppose to call them, what, the 'Peace-Loving Irish' or the 'Peaceful' -- would that ... "

JOHANSEN: "We have a lot of jokes about that, and I think most of these are helpful because certainly people in the Peace Studies Institute are happy to see Notre Dame athletic victories, and it's good for us to reflect on how that desire is one that can be constructive in human interactions and when it seems maybe to get out of line and become destructive."

AA: Professor Robert Johansen at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. If you have a question or comment, write to VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC two-zero-two-three-seven USA or Back next week with Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "Give Peace a Chance"/John Lennon