Sen. Weinberg and euphemism

They are not exactly lies, but they do attempt to obscure the truth.



noun: euphemism; plural noun: euphemisms

a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.

Commenting on yesterday's budget address by Governor Chris Christie, the always ideologically pedantic Weinberg had little to say of substance but did commend the Governor for his use of the term "reproductive services."  We don't know exactly what the Governor meant when he used the term, but the way it is used by groups like Planned Parenthood -- a group Senator Weinberg has championed -- is unambiguous.  To Planned Parenthood the term means the "right to choose safe, legal abortion at a reasonable cost, in a supportive and confidential setting."  To people who share the worldview of Loretta Weinberg, "reproductive services" is a euphemism for abortion.

Politicians and the governments they make employ euphemism when they seek to hide some or all of the truth.  "Reproductive services" sounds much nicer than "abortion" or "killing" or "terminating a pregnancy."  Because whatever abortion is, we can all agree that it ends something.  It ends a human story that, if allowed to go uninterrupted, would have become a story much like ours, with all our complexity.  Except that now it won't happen, so we won't get to know, and the he or she that could have been will not be.  And if you believe John Donne (or Ernest Hemingway) we will be the lesser for it.

Thinking about an ideology's use of euphemism reminded us of a sort of documentary film the BBC produced a few years back.  It should be required viewing for all high school students -- and again for all lawyers, bureaucrats, and academics in training.  It says something about the use of language and especially, about euphemism.

It takes place in a country that had recently been a western democracy -- with an elected president, legislative chamber, and independent judiciary.  But in this country the law was used to drive out opposition voices and piece by piece replace the institutions of representative democracy with one-party, one point-of-view authoritarianism.  This country had grand ideas about its destiny and, to that end, committed itself to a program of foreign meddling.  So the country was soon at war.

The setting is a beautiful house on a lake, in a suburb outside the capital.  The house had been seized from its owners, by the government for its use, through a form of eminent domain.  In the middle of winter, 15 bureaucrats and politicians met there.  Most were lawyers, others were prominent members of the civil service, many had impressive academic credentials.  Over fine wine they lunched (it calls to mind one of those Planned Parenthood videos) and for two hours twisted and contorted language and emerged with a euphemism -- "the final solution" -- that consigned millions to unimaginable horror and death.

In this scene from the film, we watch as the word "evacuation" is assigned a new meaning.

If you watch the entire film, pay close attention to how everything they planned had to be "based in law."  And by-the-way, the uniforms are not military uniforms.  They are political party uniforms.  These bastards were not soldiers, they were attorneys. 

Words matter.  Politically correct euphemism is the enemy of truth.