Jack Shafer of Slate has written a superb article on the notion of “loophole” titled “Shut Your Loophole.”(Thanks to Brad Malestein for bringing this piece to my attention.) Here’s an excerpt:

Upon entering the English language in the late 16th century, the word loophole defined the narrow opening in a wall through which defenders jetted arrows, javelins, or stones at foes.

Over the centuries, this perfectly useful term has been corrupted by rhetorical con artists to mean terrible "gaps" in the law—or in the tax code—that demand "closing." Because the legal code allows all that it does not prohibit, loophole prospectors needn't look far to discover new ones. Just find a permitted behavior in the proximity of a banned one and scream, " Eureka!"

It's a loaded, partisan word, one that implies wrongdoing and scandal where none exists, and inserting it into a political argument gives the inserter the upper hand. When loophole creeps into news stories, they start to read like editorials….

The Washington Post shouted loophole just yesterday in "Loophole Lets Candidates Skirt Donation Limit" (July 23). Using the word in both the headline and the story, the Post reports that presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and John Edwards are legally collecting donations for their presidential campaigns at the same time they're gathering money from other political entities connected to them. For example, presidential candidate Clinton has also declared herself a candidate for re-election to the Senate in 2012, thus allowing supporters to make double donations to her.

The Post headline makes the candidates sound extra naughty by stating that the loophole allows them to "skirt" donation limits. Like loophole, skirt is a slippery, vague, and slightly accusatory word. But why should we think of it that way? By definition, anybody who skirts a law is still in compliance with it. A more accurate headline for the Post piece would have been "Candidates Exercise Maximum Fund-Raising Rights."

Read the whole thing.

Shafer goes on to provide additional examples and to point out that the word “loophole” is used to make perfectly legal and morally legitimate practices seem illegal or bad. . . .

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