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The phrase ‘only words’ is used to criticise and dismiss (‘talk is cheap’; ‘all talk and no action’). Words are counterposed to action and seen as confined to the realm of debate (‘talkfests’). But as the word ‘propaganda’ attests, the power of words as incentive to action — and in this way even a form of action — is also well known. Language serves diverse purposes. Hence we need to attune to its multiple uses in the digital age, amid the normalisation of ‘alternative facts’, and in increasingly unequal societies in which privilege is rationalised and deflected by corporate PR speak.

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