One thing our Bible says is, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” When we say, “The prisoner failed to survive interrogation” instead of “We tortured the prisoner to death,” the people perish. When we ask for “a portable, hand-held communications inscriber” instead of a pencil or for a “combat emplacement evacuator” instead of a shovel, or for a “rotatable, hexagonal compression unit” instead of a nut for a bolt, the people perish.
These examples come from “Doublespeak,” a book by William Lutz. Some Native-Americans used to say “White man speak with forked-tongue.” Lutz would say that white people use doublespeak. Lutz says that doublespeak corrupts the function of language. This corruption can have serious consequences. Both the speaker and the listener may think that they understand when they really do not. President Carter described the failed hostage-rescue attempt in Iran as a success. Well, he called it an “incomplete success,” but still he called a failure a success. He seemed to believe that he had communicated meaningfully.
Similarly, President Reagan said in 1985, “…our success in the …arms-reduction talks depends on our show of determination to continue our program to build up and fortify our defenses.” He seemed to believe that building more weapons at home would reduce the number of weapons in the world.
Our Bible also says, “In the beginning was the word.” As an English teacher —formerly paid, now, unpaid — I strongly endorse that emphasis on the importance of language. If there is anything more important than language, please tell me what it is. Without language, how could you get your message across?
The power-mongers keep power, partly by controlling people and events by controlling language. The phrase “pro-life” has controlled much of the debate about abortion by implying that those who have different views are “anti-life.” Personally, I don’t see that being “anti-abortion” makes any more sense than being “anti-weather.”
We should, I think, try to avoid offending people, but we should try even harder to communicate every truth, even if that means offending others. Most of us do not want the people to perish.