I recently listened to a lecture series from The Modern Scholar company called A Way With Words: Writing, Rhetoric, and The Art of Persuasion. It was an enjoyable 7 disc jaunt, if not entirely riveting.
The most interesting part of the lectures for me was the brief section on Euphemism. The lecturer, Michael C. Drout, states that “euphemisms rot the brain.”
He cites Orwell’s Politics And The English Language as a foundation of his argument. I’m paraphrasing, but Orwell essentially says that euphemisms encourage intellectual dishonesty and make corruption and genocide and various hideous acts more possible.
How? Because “euphemisms do not summon images to mind.” It should be noted that we’re not talking about euphemisms in the sense of saying “Darn it!” instead of “Damn it.”
Rather, he’s speaking about terms like “ethnic cleansing,” which does not conjure up images of the horrors associated with the actual processes of genocide.
“Border modification” sounds much nicer than dwelling on the images that might occur if we allow ourselves to think about what it actually meant when American Indians were brutally driven off of their lands.
I am very interested in having the highest clarity of thought possible; of being intellectually honest, to borrow a term from Michael Drout. I never would have thought of euphemisms in this light, but now I find it very hard to counter their arguments.
Do the words cause the atrocities? No, I think that’s going too far. Can they make them more possible, or sustain them once they have begun? I think it’s plausible.
Dunce Two, having done the law thing, you’re probably better acquainted with rhetoric than anyone I know. Thoughts on this?