Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Shell Shock & Euphemistic Language

OK. The general thrust of this blog comes from a bit by the late, great George Carlin. This fuses his interest in language with his social conscience in a beautiful way. The basic idea goes thus:

I don't like words that hide the truth or conceal reality. I don't like euphemisms or euphemistic language. If you live in a culture that has a problem with the truth, a soft language is developed in order to protect itself from the truth - and it gets worse with every generation.

An example. There is a condition in combat, when a fighting person's nervous system has been stressed to its absolute limit. The nervous system has either snapped, or is about to snap. This condition went through a series of name-changes over the 20th Century.

Shell Shock: In the first world war, it was called Shell Shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables - almost sounds like the guns themselves.

Battle Fatigue: Same condition, used a generation later in WW2. Four syllables now, takes a little longer to say, doesn't seem to hurt as much. 'Fatigue' is a nicer word than 'Shock'.

Operational Exhaustion: Used during America's War with Korea in the 1950s. We're up to eight syllables now, and the humanity has been completely squeezed out of the phrase. It's sterile. Sounds like something that might happen to your car.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: This was used during the Vietnam War. Still eight syllables, but it now includes a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon.

If they continued calling it Shell Shock, some of those veterans who returned from Vietnam might have received the attention they needed at the time.

1 comment:

Arietty Dexter said...

Gosh, that's so true. And that goes for every aspect of life as well - as soon as something is categorised it is shelved as 'dealt with' - it's not right. Language is used against people and that's just not right - it is such an incredible tool! Fascinating.