George Orwell's classic essay "Politics and the English Language" noted that euphemistic language had political effects. In Stalin's Soviet Union, murder of political opponents was politely termed "liquidation." Get people to change language, and you change how they think.
This is a banner year for political euphemisms, and the right seems to do it better than the left. Republicans are having modest success in getting "death tax" accepted in general usage to mean estate tax. The other day, in an NPR commentary, Everett Erlich, a former undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration, used "death tax" as if it were not an Orwellian invention but a neutral term. Our friend Robert McIntyre keeps trying to get people to call the estate tax a wealth tax, which in fact it is, but to no avail. The anti-abortion lobby has succeeded in getting "pro-life"--rather than the accurate and more neutral term "anti-abortion"-- injected into general usage, as if people who favored reproductive choice were anti-life. Pro-choice is a nice counter-euphemism, but not quite a match; at the end of the day, life has to trump choice.
The pro-free trade political center scored one victory when the media began adopting the benign-sounding coinage permanent normal trade relations instead of the traditional and accurate most-favored-nation status. The latter sounds preferential because, in fact, it is. Countries that receive MFN status get the most favorable trade privileges available. These privileges are generally reserved for open, democratic, capitalist countries. What China got was not merely normal, but preferential.
A sublime set of political euphemisms comes to us courtesy of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, who have collected the following terms from the timber industry (which prefers to be known as the forest products industry). The environmentalist group reports that forest industry executives avoid the term "old growth" to refer to pristine, ancient trees, in favor of "over-mature" or "decadent." Instead of the ugly-sounding (and accurate) "clear cutting," the industry now uses "tree-density reduction," "landscape management," "re-establishing even-age stands," and--our favorite--"temporary meadow."
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