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Words Oct. 28

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“The origins of ‘Cotton-eyed Joe’ are murky. It’s a dance, a song — and may have been a real person. And what does it mean to be ‘cotton-eyed’?” — Stephen Koch’s “Arkansongs” column. Good question. I couldn’t find much in the way of answers. This came from what appears to be a square-dance web site. “ ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ is one of the most popular western tunes ever played with nearly 500 recordings made. The story goes Joe would take a ‘cotton to’ (or ‘liking to’) other fellows’ gals he would see, and so the term ‘Cotton-eyed Joe.’ ” It’s not terribly persuasive. The Dictionary of American Regional English says that cotton-eyed means “Having the whites of the eyes prominent.” But what does that mean? Bug-eyed? Both sides of the abortion debate use misleading language. This is from Extra! magazine: “For a long time, journalists consistently used the term ‘partial-birth abortion’ to describe the medical procedure in question [in the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act], even though the phrase is not a medical term but a political term coined by abortion opponents. The legislation purports to target a procedure medically known as intact dilation and extraction, but is so vague that it could ban a variety of abortions at different stages of pregnancy. Though most journalists covering the issue now at least put the phrase ‘partial-birth’ abortion in quotation marks, many have continued to use without qualification another misleading phrase to describe the procedures in question: ‘late-term abortion.’ “In fact, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban … makes no reference to viability or gestational age of the fetus, and the vague language of the law could ban abortions performed as early as the 13th week of pregnancy. Casting the legislation as a ban on aborting viable fetuses proved politically useful for abortion opponents … ” All true, but Extra! goes on to say, “A celebrity interview … revealed the dangers of relying on celebrity spokespersons rather than women’s rights leaders to represent the pro-choice position … ” And Extra! doesn’t put “pro-choice” in quotation marks where it belongs, along with “pro-life.” Talk about vague — both those terms are euphemisms, avoiding the real subject. All of us are for choice and for life. Abortion is what we disagree on.

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