Anatomy lesson: redefining ‘migrant’ — and how the media went along

The following is a news analysis

This article was first published Sept. 22, 2022.

Most of us probably used to think that dictionaries or definitions existed to explain the meanings of words.

Today, these resources are instead often used as tools to redefine and manipulate words to the liking of governments, corporations or other propagandists who want to influence people or make them think a certain way.

As I have long discussed, for most any source of information, special interests and propagandists have found a way to co-opt and pervert it. This includes sources of information such as social media, Wikipedia (which is one reason why co-founder Larry Sanger says he ultimately left the project), Snopes, medical journals and studies, news media, dictionaries, blogs (DailyKos, MediaMatters, Scienceblogs, Salon, Vox, Slate, GQ, Rolling Stone), and much more.

Watch Sharyl Attkisson’s TedX talk on Astroturf and Media Manipulation

In some instances, information manipulators popularize new terms they create out of whole cloth, or ones they define in a way that’s useful to their goals. These terms include “conspiracy theory,” “anti-vaccine,” “without evidence,” “food desert,” “transphobic,” “died by suicide,” and much more.

Read Sharyl Attkisson’s Top 10 List of Astroturfers

These same people also redefine commonly-used terms to achieve propaganda goals. One recent example can be found in efforts to redefine the term: “migrant.”

For decades in the US, the word “migrant” commonly referred to people from another country coming to the US and moving around from place to place, usually for work. This word does not accurately describe most illegal border crossers, who either intend to permanently relocate in the US (“immigrants”); or who are criminals, drug dealers, or human traffickers moving back and forth between the US and Mexico to facilitate crime.

But you might have noticed in the last couple of years, those in the public forum, including news outlets, have switched to using the term “migrant” to describe illegal “immigrants,” asylum seekers, and even unknown criminals.

Nobody has announced who first instigated this change, but the news media quickly adopted the inaccurate, new usage of the term.

One can see the evolution of the efforts to redefine “migrant” in definitions online. Remember: definitions are traditionally used to explain the meaning of a term, not to convince or brainwash people into using terms in a new way to fulfill the goal of propagandists.

Using “The Wayback Machine” at, we can see that listed the correct, common definitions of “migrant” as late as December 2016: “Migrant…also called a migrant worker: A person who moves from place to place to get work, especially a farm laborer who harvests crops seasonally.”

However, by May of 2017, with President Donald Trump in the White House, and massive efforts already underway to unseat him and undermine his border security policies, suddenly listed an entirely new, made-up definition. The new definition reads, “A person who attempts to permanently relocate to a new country, but who may be subject to removal by the government of that country: undocumented migrants; unaccompanied child migrants.”

Significantly, the new definition was given a place of prominence above the accurate, longstanding definition of “migrant.”

Those behind the effort to change the definition know the reasons why they are doing it and the impact they hope it will have. To date, the reasoning and sources haven’t been shared with the public.

However, it is a fascinating and disturbing lesson in propaganda, psychology, and human behavior to see so many people have unthinkingly adopted the new definition and usage of “migrant,” despite its inaccuracy. And then, they appear perfectly satisfied as long as someone published the inaccurate definition in a reference they can point to.

For comparison, think of this example. We all know that a bicycle is typically a two-wheeled vehicle on a frame propelled by pedals and steered by handlebars. But what if one day someone started pointing to a pogo-stick and calling it a bicycle. And what if, instead of saying, “that’s not correct,” the news media and others began calling pogo-sticks “bicycles.” And then, what if changed its definition of bicycles to read, “a spring-loaded pole toy for jumping around on”… and what if those who were asked why they were calling a pogo stick a “bicycle” pointed to for proof and said, “Look! You can see a pogo stick is a bicycle! It’s in!”

With that kind of logic, you could almost be convinced a man is a woman, a frog is a person, or up is down.

Radical activist Saul Alinsky wrote, “He who controls the language controls the masses”.

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17 thoughts on “Anatomy lesson: redefining ‘migrant’ — and how the media went along”

  1. This has been going on for far longer than the 2010’s. I can remember a time when gay meant happy, joyous, festive now it has a far different meaning and applied to some of the most miserable segments of the population.

    1. Shortly afte the term “gay” began to be used by both homosexuals and the media, a university professor said that the correct term for “straights” should actually be “staid.” But the dictionary definition even today for “staid” is “marked by settled sedateness and often prim self-restraint : sober, grave.” I doubt that many “straight” individuals would prefer that label. What we see is that many groups have embraced formerly perjorative terms as descriptions of pride. Blacks, Chicanos, Queer were once slurs but now have been adopted proudly by these specific groups. The media should think carefully before adopting labels that open news organizations to charges of bias and slanted reporting. Sadly, too many media have failed to consider this.

  2. Homosexuality, cross dressing and other sexually deviant behavior was clinically considered a mental illness until the 70s, when the left went to work on public perception. And it’s been all downhill since then.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree. When I was growing up, being queer was not a good thing. It was something that was looked down upon. Transgenders? Even worse, this is something that is totally immoral and is something that is just plain absurd. You are what you are born, and that’s just the way it is. I do NOT condone such ‘behavior’, in anyone. It was wrong then, and it STILL is. I haven’t and won’t, ever change my stance on that.

  3. The worst thing is that if one challenges the changed definition, the spinners will claim (using a valid reason for an invalid explanation) that languages are always changing and evolving, and that the new definition is a reflection of how society has changed the meaning. We need a new word for this type of manipulative disingenuousness.

  4. Let’s bell the cat, Alinsky was a Jewish bolshevik communist and like many of the khazarian tribe bent on exploiting the sheeplegoyisha. Avoid the kosher tax if you can

  5. Write on! Sharyl Attkisson! I should think that by now the term, “propaganda” ought to be used as frequently as the word, “immigrant.” With the collapse of society–its values, the former trust of its institutions in a shambles, and the notable absence of a Free Press–language has been subverted to the degree that ‘gaslighting’ (aka sleight of hand foolery) has become acceptable and the norm in the neo-Liberal political sphere. The crafty inversion and use of terms like “migrant” are indicative of the corruption of the English language, and as a consequence, the negation of authentic debate. If the dictionary can’t be relied on for unbiased-straight forward definitions, how will we construct cogent and coherent dialog within the socio-political realm? []

  6. There’s also alot of government funding contracts for “migrants” via NGOs to support them under
    different federal programs such as Wagner-Peyser Act, Workforce Investment Act (WIA), Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), etc thru different state & local prigrams via DOL, ETA, etc. That would be an interesting compare/contrast of how taxes are used.

  7. Language distortion is a hallmark of information technology and its practice is pernicious and independent of propaganda mechanisms although they have obviously converged rather in the way that Renfield and Count Dracula did.

  8. I’ve recently seen the term “undead or undied themselves” to replace died by suicide or killed themselves.
    My father always told me, “don’t believe everything you read.” It’s taking on a whole new meaning.

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