Space X rocket undergoes ‘rapid unscheduled disassembly’.
Shortly after its launch on Thursday of this week, the most powerful rocket ever built exploded. Since then, Elon Musk’s team at SpaceX has been learning that the names we give things don’t change what they really are, however much we might wish it.
Thankfully the ‘rapid unscheduled disassembly’, both in itself and as a phrase, harmed no one in its making 😁. But not all euphemisms are so benign. What’s more, as readers we’re not always good at spotting them—benign or otherwise. Consider the disturbing acceptability implied by the concepts ‘friendly fire’ and ‘collateral damage’; the dehumanising implicit in the terms ‘rightsizing’ and ‘re-calibrating’; and the denial of responsibility inherent in the labels ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘underprivileged’. You may well have a few examples of your own, and if so please do share.
If we truly want to make the world a better place, we public writers must be honest with our readers. As George Monbiot puts it: ‘If we wish to reclaim public life from the small number of people who have captured it, we must also reclaim the language in which it is expressed. To know what we are talking about: this, in more than one sense, is the task of those who want a better world.’
(For more thoughts on euphemisms, or weasel words as the Chambers English Dictionary calls them, see my blog from 2013 – Jack Nicholson was right!)