Linguistics and government: What does a spending “cut” mean?

Yesterday’s New York Times carries an article entitled “Fear of U.S. Cuts Grows in States Where Aid Flows.” Google Chrome says that the word “cut” occurs 32 times on the page. It sounds like a natural disaster: “The impact would be widespread as the cuts ripple across the nation over the next year”. Yet buried near the bottom is an interesting paragraph: “Even with the automatic cuts, the analysis found, states are still expected to get more federal aid over all this year than they did last year, because of growth in some of the biggest programs that are exempt from the cuts, including Medicaid.”

So.. federal spending is being cut. Which is why more money will be spent this year than last year.


  1. Emil Sotirov

    February 23, 2013 @ 9:14 pm


    It’s not only at the level of semantics only. It’s a great story – isn’t it. Which relates to something that bothers me more and more lately – the omnipresent cult/tyranny of “story telling”.

    It’s not the government… nor the media only. It’s everywhere – Americans are trained to be great story tellers… and to consume stories like hamburgers. Why bother with reality, numbers, stats, etc. – they don’t sell well… and their “taste” is rarely good (especially lately).

  2. Joshua Levinson

    February 23, 2013 @ 11:02 pm


    Well, that’s Base-line budgeting in a nutshell, isn’t it? Spending is set to decrease from where it would have been otherwise, even if, after the decrease, the net number is still higher.

    The states made their own budgets and projections based on the assumption of a certain level of federal spending. Even if that federal spending is higher than it was last year, it’s still less than the states had assumed they would be getting.

  3. Andrew

    February 23, 2013 @ 11:57 pm


    Even when they’re talking about a single program over subsequent years, “cut” seems to usually mean “reduction in rate of increase”.

    We re-elect them because they lie to us.

  4. Z. Constantine

    February 24, 2013 @ 6:00 am


    Reminiscent of an old favorite:

    The message from your government is a fairly constant one:


  5. Jason

    February 25, 2013 @ 12:56 am


    Speaking of “keeping us safe”, have any of you read about the new “Anti-Piracy System” that’s supposed to roll out tomorrow? Personally, I feel this is simply another way for Big Government to extend it’s hold over the public. This could open all kinds of doors regarding privacy and the every day average internet user. I think the idea sounds good but it’s not practical and there will definitely be some backlash over this. Even if you unknowingly violate the policy, they can notify your internet provider and reduce your internet speed to a crawl! You can check the article out at mashable.

  6. pgk

    February 25, 2013 @ 6:03 pm


    Seems to be not unlike how the government “creates jobs” by taxing businesses and funneling the money to political supporters.

  7. David Lloyd-Jones

    March 1, 2013 @ 6:45 pm


    …and somehow cuts and “svings” always seem to run into the trillions, a calculation usually reached by straight-line extrapolation over an always unstated number of years.

    The unstated number of years adds a sterling grade bit of bogosity to things, because no budget authorization, appropriation or intention-stating resolution can bind any future Congress. Hence no number can mean anything beyond a theoretically possible two years into the future — modulo the fact that budgets usually cover past years. (George Bush II achieved the singular record of being the first, I believe, President to come up with a budget having not even a day’s ioverlap with a current calendar year. back in his first term.)


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