7 (More) Innocent Words That Mean Something Different to a QAnoner
A “cult linguist” breaks down the baleful buzzwords that might be lurking on your social media feeds…
How would you define the word “doctor?”
If you’re a fluent English speaker, this should be a pretty simple task: I’d generally characterize a doctor as either a qualified medical practitioner or a PhD. Odds are your definition is pretty similar, close enough that if we were to have a conversation about doctors, or if I were to hypothetically call myself one (I am not, for the record), you would know with basically zero effort exactly what I was talking about.
As speakers of English, or any language really, we take this mutual understanding for granted. When you stop and think about it, though, it’s actually quite incredible that egregious miscommunications don’t happen more often. Amazingly, we as everyday humans tend to adhere so closely to a shared system of word meanings that when we converse with one another, information is usually exchanged smoothly and effectively. When I say the word “doctor,” you know just what I mean.
We don’t often stop to appreciate the stable relationship we have with language (and thus, with each other)… not until something disrupts it. Take secret code words, for example: Lexical items that mean one thing to the average speaker but something entirely different to a small group. These hidden word meanings give that exclusive community so much invisible power.
QAnon is one pernicious group that benefits from linguistic red herrings in order to lure followers in their fold. But QAnon is not so small anymore: According to recent reporting from The New York Times, QAnon has become just as popular as some major religions in the U.S. For those of us who don’t indulge in conspiracy theories or find ourselves entrenched in the corners of the internet that do, this stat might seem utterly baffling; however, when you look at the insidious language techniques QAnon and its offshoots (conspiritualists, antivaxxers, etc.) have used to ensnare believers, it starts to make more sense.
About a month ago, I published Part 1 of this story on the inauspicious code language of QAnon (if you haven’t read that, feel free to take a gander now): how the internet’s vast network of conspiracy theorists takes an ever-changing glossary of common English words and infuses them with new, QAnon-specific meanings in order to send thousands of Americans down a rabbit hole of conspiratorial thinking. (Cleverly, the lexicon is always evolving so that social media algorithms don’t catch up to it, flag it as QAnon-speak, and shut down the accounts using it.) Using language that’s as vague as a horoscope, QAnoners can inveigle online followers who might never voluntarily sign up to believe in extreme ideas like blood-drinking global elitists or the Plandemic hoax, but who are at least open to the notion that Big Pharma can’t be trusted, that social media is censoring certain ideas, and that the government may have ill intentions. Offering a new understanding of English, QAnoners are able to make recruits feel like they’re a part of an exclusive “community” that holds special knowledge; they’re made to feel superior, like this group offers answers the world’s most urgent questions, to which the “sheeple” are not privy. That combination of assuredness and exclusivity feels extremely compelling, and it’s all manufactured with language.
The language of QAnon comes up toward the end of my forthcoming book Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism, in which I write about the shared linguistic techniques that charismatic leaders from Jim Jones to Jeff Bezos to Instagram influencers all use to build a following, instill ideology, create an us/them dichotomy… essentially everything a fanatical group needs in order to gain and maintain power.
From “censorship” to “resonates” to (you guessed it) “doctor,” here’s a continuation of that long list of QAnon code words. These terms might sound like innocent everyday English (you may have even seen them in your own social media feeds), but they might secretly signal something much more sinister...
Save the Children
Following the Wayfair conspiracy of summer 2020, what was once a catchphrase used by actual child welfare organizations was purloined by QAnon and conspiritualist (Q-to-CS) influencers as a way to rebrand QAnon rhetoric to sound less focused on incendiary ideas about Hilary Clinton drinking blood to stay young or recycled Satanic Panic paranoias and more focused on the general goal of keeping children safe from elitist predators. Save the Children rallies were held where QAnon insignia was clearly visible (no children were actually saved a result). Around that time, as social media algorithms began catching up to more blatant QAnon language and hashtags, #savethechildren gave them a way to assemble and recruit more believers, all while hiding in plain sight.
Q-to-CS folks tend to harbor a great deal of cognitive dissonance surrounding medical accreditation and the word “doctor” itself. On one hand, they regard COVID-19 preventative measures like social distancing, masking, and vaccination as a pernicious tactic on the part of “Big Pharma” to control doctors, and thus everyone else. (It probably goes without saying that while the pharmaceutical industry has certainly impacted medical education, to imply that it “brainwashes” doctors or delegitimizes research is risky thinking at best.) And yet, at the very same time that QAnoners denounce the medical establishment on social media as an elitist scam, some of these same believers will happily tout the “Dr.” title in their Instagram bios. For them, however, “Dr.” likely does not represent an MD or PhD, but instead a Juris doctor (a law school graduate), a chiropractor, or nothing at all.
To an average English speaker, censorship is understood to mean the banning of books, films, and other media considered to be obscene. But to a Q-to-CS individual, “censorship” may be used to describe social media companies’ efforts to crack down on pages and accounts that disseminate mis– and disinformation or are affiliated in any way with QAnon (which the FBI determined in 2020 to be a national security threat and who used apps like Facebook and Instagram to plan the capital insurrection). To these believers, “censorship” serves as an emotionally charged buzzword to further create an us/them dichotomy between in-the-know followers, whom the “powers that be” are purportedly trying to oppress, and the evil “elites” and painfully out-of-touch “sheeple.”
Powers That Be
Speaking of this phrase… what first appeared in Tyndale’s Bible in the 16th Century to mean authorities ordained by God has been co-opted by the Q-to-CS community to mean the exact opposite: members of the Illuminati or Deep State, like Bill Gates and George Soros, who were contemptibly elected not by God but by the evil (invisible) upper echelons of society. (This is a form of linguistic gaslighting that cultish groups, from Satantic groups to Scientology, all employ: you take a word and reverse its meaning entirely as a way to disorient followers such that they default to the leader to know what’s true and what they need to do to feel safe.)
Conspiritualist types cling to the notion that “intuition” is a divine, mystical skill that is more powerful and more trustworthy than research, data, or facts. While “intuitive” to most English speakers is an adjective, meaning an automatic, unlearned type of decision making, in Q-to-CS spaces you’ll often see the word used as a noun, and it’s listed in certain influencers’ bios with a capital I as a sort of credential, indicating that they have access to transcendent wisdom.
What sounds like a label for someone who’s interested in pursuing facts and data, again, means just the inverse: “truth seeker” is the label for true QAnon types, who followed Q’s “crumbs” and “Q drops” and believe its core fantasies that a cabal of elitist pedophiles is secretly sex-trafficking children, that Donald Trump was the election’s real winner, and that he was the only one who could put a stop to the Deep State’s evil. Emotionally loading and/or warping the word “truth” is another tactic that most all of history’s most notorious cult leaders, from Reverend Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church to Heaven’s Gate’s Marshall Applewhite, have all employed.
In the same category as “intuitive,” this metaphysical buzzword reinforces the value of subjective truth, “alternate realities,” and DIY “research.” It allows them to avoid having to agree or disagree with complex topics (like the severity of COVID-19 or if the vaccine is secretly injecting a microchip into patients), look into them further, or acknowledge the existence of objective facts at all. Information simply “resonates” or doesn’t, and that’s all anyone needs to make decisions.