Discrimination: Weasel Word?


By Mike Cronin

Why is it that advertisements for luxury goods often appeal to those with “discriminating tastes,” yet it is widely regarded as wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of their genetic makeup, physical abilities, or group affiliations? How can it be good to discriminate in one instance, but not the other? I submit it is because the word discrimination has two opposing meanings; one of which is weasel-ease.

Dictionary.com gives four definitions for discrimination.  The first two seem to be almost completely contradictory to each other. The first, i.e. “an act or instance of discriminating, or of making a distinction,” alludes to judgment. It is the meaning that applies in the case of advertisers appealing to the supposed keen discernment of well-heeled consumers.  The second definition, “treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit…” is the kind of discrimination that gets folks into legal and moral trouble.

Here’s the rub: a person who takes such action for or against another solely on account of race, creed, gender, etc., is actually indiscriminately applying their prejudices or stereotypes against their victims. They are in fact failing to discriminate based on individual merit. That’s the exact opposite of the primary definition of discrimination, and it is the essence of collectivism. “Discrimination” has entered the weasel lexicon.