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Violent Rhetoric Can Have Consequences, Communication Studies Professor Says

After passage of the health care reform bill, opponents of the legislation began using increasingly war-like rhetoric such as Sarah Palin's tweet which said "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD."

David Olson, assistant professor of communication studies at Southwestern University, says such rhetoric can have dangerous consequences.

In a classic communications text titled Metaphors We Live By, Olson says author George Lakoff convincingly demonstrates how metaphors shape our thinking and ultimately our actions.

"The metaphors that many people often use to describe disagreement are usually metaphors of war." Olson says. "When politicians and radio talk show hosts use such terms, it sets the stage for people to think about political disagreement as war. If you mix those messages with people who feel threatened by the new political landscape and feel that armed resistance is something that is legitimate, you are lighting a fuse on a literally explosive group of people."

Olson holds master's degrees from the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. He was a speechwriter in the Texas Senate before joining the Southwestern faculty in 1992. Olson teaches courses at Southwestern on public speaking and politics and communication.

Professor Olson may be reached at 512-863-1314 or