Monday, July 29, 2013

Good words/Bad deeds

A euphemism, derived from the Greek root eu meaning good, is a nice word for an unpleasant concept.  In itself there is nothing wrong with that just as there is nothing improper to say good words, a eulogy, at a funeral, even if the person buried was a complete scoundrel.  If people describe their relatives as large instead of fat, it expresses sensitivity.  To call the person for whom the eulogy is being delivered the deceased instead of the dead person or the corpse adds a layer of formality that is needed on such an occasion.

However, some euphemisms are slippery linguistic traps potentially to awful acts.  To paraphrase Hannah Arendt in With Eichmann in Jerusalem, the mere act of calling the holocaust the Final Solution allowed ordinary people to commit evil acts.  Sometimes, you have to call a spade a spade.

Some examples of improper, in my opinion, embellishment include the term armed conflict for war.  The fight in Korea (1950 – present) is a war, whether or not Congress declared it, with thousands of casualties on both sides.  Ethnic cleansing is not like cleaning your house; it is genocide and a crime against humanity. Non-consensual sex is sweet-sounding word for rape, which is an ugly and reprehensible crime of violence.  Wanting to kill the Israelis means you want to kill Jews. On the lighter side, being height-challenged adds a sense of ridiculous to the already less than wonderful feeling of being short.  On the same level, having extra face does not take away from the fact that the person is bald, which may make him more or less attractive, but only adds linguistic absurdity.

So, exercise proper judgment when avoiding direct language.  It is okay to save the feelings of your loved ones, but being politically correct could lead to historically wrong behavior.

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