Commentary: Euphemisms and Today's News

Though Convenient, They Are Not Always Good

Given 09-Apr-11; 10 minutes

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John Ritenbaugh, commenting on some euphemisms appearing in the news this week concerning President Obama's birth certificate, quotes a Hawaiian Congressman who accuses Barak Obama of "fibbing," softening the effects of this deliberate deception. If we soften the effects of our sins through euphemisms and equivocation, we are yielding to the "evil one," threatening our spiritual lives.

For some reason, a number of euphemisms appeared in the news this week and struck my fancy enough that I wanted the comment on them a bit. A euphemism is a substitution of a softer word or expression that the speaker feels may be less offensive and unpleasant to the hearer. This substituting is by no means modern. It's been practiced for millennia, but in this age of political correctness, we have become particularly adept at creating and using them all the way from the very top status in society to the bottom. In fact, I believe that in many cases, euphemisms are used more frequently than the original, harsher terms.

A few choice ones:

A lavatory is now a "comfort station," "loo," "restroom," "water closet," or even plain old "WC."

Pornography has become "adult entertainment."

A prostitute is a "call girl" or a "street walker." To the military men, she might be a "comfort woman."

I heard this one first about 60 years ago. To urinate is to "tinkle," "relieve oneself," or "pass water."

An undertaker has become a "funeral director"; the viewing room is now the "slumber room," and believe it or not, some funeral directors refer to the dead person as his "client."

The government, military, and corporate institutions have become particularly adept at creating and using euphemisms to make the hearer's or reader's understanding vague at best. It is the author George Orwell, who is credited with creating the terms, "double speak" and "news speak." Both of these terms are indicative of those institutions deliberately hiding their true intent.

We are witnessing a spin off of this in today's shopping world, when the corporate interests are clearly attempting to hide the fact that their packaged foods may seem like they are the same size, but now contain lower weights than previously. And they are selling them either at the same price or even higher.

In the 1930s, the Nazis planned to murder millions of Jews. "Murder" is a harsh word, so the official government orders referred to it as the "final solution." The United States government and its military are in no way innocent. Instead of "genocide," the term is now "ethnic cleansing." Invasions—you'll notice we haven't "invaded" Libya—have become "interventions," or even—this is really creative—"creative actions," or even "assessments." Our guy's on the ground shooting, but that's an "assessment."

Now here is a scary one. You've heard the term "protective custody" very often. That is the euphemism for imprisonment without due process. They just stick the people in jail. In the United States.

As World War II began, the United States, fearing internal unrest arising from Japanese Americans, ordered them to be contained within concentration camps for the duration of the war. That is the term used in the original order, but the order was quickly changed to read "redemption centers."

Here's another one from warfare: During World War I, a soldier was said to be "shell shocked." In World War II, he was said to be "battle fatigued." During the Korean War, it became "operational exhaustion," and in the Vietnam War, the soldier was now suffering from "post-traumatic distress."

Now what aroused my interest in the subject was an article that appeared in WorldNetDaily, concerning the only Republican politician in Hawaii in Congress being questioned about President Obama's much-contested birthplace. The President claims that he was born in Hawaii, but neither Hawaiian state officials nor hospital officials have been able to present a legal certificate proving his claim. However, a very legal-looking document has turned up in Kenya, containing all the official signatures from that period of time.

President Obama has spent just under $2 million attempting to secure privacy on this issue, as well as his school records and even his Senate voting records. Now, what caught my eye was that the Hawaiian politician being interviewed believes Obama is "fibbing." "Fibbing" is a euphemism for lying. The Online Dictionary defines it as "an insignificant, childish lie," and they believe that the word was drawn from the word "fable," meaning "nonsense." It is also defined as "trivial." Every definition that I saw defined fibbing as a lie. That is reality. A fib is a lie, but it's much easier to take.

Two days later, a new story hit the wire regarding a local North Carolina state politician named James Black. Mr. Black rose to become Democratic speaker of the House of North Carolina, and he had a reputation for being a real wheeler-dealer. However, he was also adept at taking bribes in order to get things done. He was prosecuted, convicted, and was in jail until the day that he was interviewed. During the interview, he denied stealing; instead, he said, he just "stepped out of line." Therein lies another euphemism.

This proclivity to soften things, especially those things concerning our evaluation of ourselves, has serious ramifications in relation to God and especially so at this time of year. The reality of sin within ourselves must not be softened, or we may never overcome it. "It's trivial. It's nothing. It's just a little thing. It doesn't matter."

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, right at the beginning of His public ministry, says in Matthew 5:37—He makes this sobering declaration:

Matthew 5:37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

In direct contact. Can we see what is happening when this principle is violated in regard to our own personal integrity? "The heart is deceitful above all things and is desperately wicked," God says. "Who can know it?" We are equivocating regarding sin in us and denying our sins' sinfulness when we equivocate this way. When this happens, we soften it with a euphemism, a justification has begun, planted by the evil one to excuse ourselves. "Oh, my sins aren't bad. After all, they are just trivial, insignificant little ones." In this case, a euphemism can be deadly, for because of them Christ died, and perhaps in the future, they might claim our life, too, unless we face up to the reality.


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