Wesley Smith has a worthy article at First Things (linked below), on the use of Euphemisms. I hate to admit that I’m old enough to recognize the subtle transition of terminology used by the press over politically-charged political issues. It seems like the press takes the liberty to create their own labels, which often defy the labels adopted by the very grouop being referred to. This subtle gradualism is propaganda, is it not? Note some of the euphemisms Smith points out in the article.
The intentionally bloodless term “collateral damage,” used during war, is particularly galling in this regard. Collateral in this context means “secondary,” or “indirect.” Damage means “physical harm caused to something in such a way as to impair its value, usefulness, or normal function.” The point of the term is to distance ourselves from the horror that actually happened: the killing and wounding of non-combatants during an act of war. The proper and accurate term for such a circumstance is “civilian casualties.” Surely war is of sufficient import, and basic respect for these victims should require accurate terminology in describing the carnage.
The struggle over the lexicon about how to properly describe aliens illegally in the United States is another example. I think “illegal alien” is properly descriptive. So too is the somewhat more tactful “undocumented immigrant,” as that describes the lack of formal permission for these people to be residing in the country. But notice that many advocates for legalizing the status of millions of such people in the country now refer to them merely as “migrants” or “immigrants.”
The media play a huge role in this problem. Indeed, it is easy to discern the side of a controversy that the media favor by the words and terms reporters deploy in stories to describe the political combatants. Thus, the Associated Press stylebook requires the use of the following terms involving contentious debates:
Abortion: Use anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice. Avoid abortionist, which connotes a person who performs clandestine abortions.
Similarly, “illegal alien” is now forbidden by the A.P.:
Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use “illegal” only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant.
Euphemisms are a propagandistic tool of misdirection. They ill serve a free people. But advocates won’t stop manipulating us until we insist that they, in Humphry’s words, “call a spade a spade.”
© 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.