This I believe. George Orwell was right. He warned us that government and press could make acts, which are repugnant to a society based on commonly held beliefs and values to seem benign by the misuse of the language.
Consider the use of terms such as “animal rights”, “execution style slaying”, or” ethnic cleansing”. They all diminish our sense of the sanctity of human life.
Let us take these terms in order and think together about what their constant repetition does to our value structure.
Animal rights may seem on the surface like a noble ideal. Don’t we want to promote attitudes or even legislation, which promote the humane treatment of animals? Do we not believe that our creator gave us the responsibility to care for all his creatures? Yes, and yes, we do want animals to be treated with humane consideration. But to give them rights? People have rights. “These truths we hold to be self evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights”. Those rights by definition place us on a plane above animals. To speak of animals having rights doesn’t raise our furry friends to our level it reduces us to theirs. By classing animals and people in the same category we are preparing ourselves to think of our neighbors as less than ourselves. When we do that it becomes easier to ignore the injustices, which we are prone to inflict on each other.
The second term, which our popular press has inflicted on the language, is “Execution style slaying” This term is used to describe a particular modus operandi of a common murderer. An execution is a legally sanctioned taking of life by the state after being so ordered by an established court, which has acted in accordance with the law. No matter what you or I may think about the morality of the laws allowing capital punishment, it is legal. Murder is the illegitimate taking of human life. No amount of verbal gymnastics can be allowed to reduce the horror of one citizen choosing to end the life of another. Nowhere do I know of any state that mandated that a gunman firing a bullet into the back of the victim’s head carry out executions. Let us keep our horror at murder intact by calling it what it is.
The same logic applies to the term “ethnic cleansing”. Is any city, state, province or nation cleaner because a particular ethnic group ahs been killed off or violently driven out of their homes? Even the term genocide sounds less horrifying than to call the acts of brigands killing their neighbors what it is, murder.
I implore reporters everywhere to think about just how much they are desensitizing us to the horrors of the acts which they report when they call atrocious acts by “cleaner” sounding words. Yes, while a rose called by another word might smell as sweet, an atrocity called by another word just might not sound as horrible and therefore may not rouse us to take action to prevent its repetition. We are our brother’s keepers. Let us not use tricks of language to salve our collective conscience. Words express the ideals by which we live. Let us not misuse them.
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