How do you master the language of the corrupt? You read their repugnant memoirs, or books of interviews with them. Whenever I do so, I add to a glossary of corruption that I’ve slowly been building:
- Laws we don’t like = Legalities
- Rules we don’t like = Niceties, “Marquis of Queensbury rules”
- Lawful or non-violent = Risk-averse
- Our scandal = A “flap”
- Brutal and/or illegal = Uncompromising, “Not afraid to take the gloves off”
- Brutality= vigor
- Brutalized = “cracked down on”
- Accountability = “The blame game”, Nitpicking
- Our critics = Hand-wringers
- We lied = “We showed a lack of candor”
- We screwed up = “Our plans were overtaken by events”
- We chose evil = “Our choices were unattractive”
- Criticism = Negative thinking
Actual dog whistles are supposedly out of the range of human hearing, but they aren’t really. We don’t hear them, but we feel them: they make the hair on the back of our neck stand up. That’s what so great about this language. I would sound innocuous in court, but in person its meaning is all too clear.
When writing dialogue for anyone who’s breaking or bending the law, write as if an incorruptible cop is sitting right there in the room, listening to everything. These guys talk as if that were true in real life, not just out of fear of wiretaps or snitches, but also because they know it’s a lot more chilling for their victims if they say it without saying it.