Sunday, January 08, 2012

Newspeak Reminders from "A Word a Day"

From: Henry Willis (hmw
Subject: Newspeak and Papier Deutsch

Before the Bush Administration gave us the phrase "enhanced interrogation" another administration used "collateral damage" to refer to the killing of civilians -- who had, by some process of word magic, lost their identity as humans to become merely "damage", like a broken window or a fallen tree. The Nazis did the same thing on a far more barbaric scale with terms such as die Endlösung, which turned mass murder into a bloodless impersonal noun.

This is not just another example of the bureaucratic degradation of language, although that is certainly part of it. As Orwell said in his great essay on politics and the English language:
"In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.... Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness.... Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them."

Or if you want to go back further, then we can quote the words that Tacitus put in the mouth of the Celtic chieftain Galgacus:

"To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a desert and call it peace."

Henry Willis, Los Angeles, California

No comments: