By David Anderson
Though memory fails, the recollection now of what the real estate ad described then as ‘waterfront property, wall-to-wall carpet, and charming,’ was rather ‘property-speak’ for a drainage ditch, a throw rug and a fixer-upper.
Similar are euphemisms in the funeral industry, at least during the late ’50s. Soft-pedaling the harsh realities as if to somehow assuage the pain over the loss of a loved one, not to mention the anguish over how much this was going to cost: flowers became ‘floral tributes’; hearses were ‘coaches’ or ‘professional cars;’ and any number of ‘slumber rooms’ and ‘reposing rooms’ and all manner – and expense – of coffins er, caskets abounded writes Jessica Mitford in “The American Way of Death.”
From preachers who are counseling (calling it an ‘affair’ instead of ‘adultery’) to politicians who want your vote (especially politicians, whose “excessive politeness makes the language of government service of any kind overwhelmingly euphemistic”) – platitudes, evasive vocabulary, and circumlocutions are all, at best, pretend communications.
It is after all socially acceptible ‘etiquette’ – the one word, according to the French, that described life during the reign of Queen Victoria: “refined sensibilities;” tea and crumpets, and all that.
By the way, speaking of doublespeak, tea and crumpets later came to be codewords for dumping “an undesirable third member of the party by making the night sound boring.”
This is the way it’s done in America – or was, a long, long time ago when things really, really mattered:
Said Thaddeus Stevens, “How can I hold that all men are created equal when here before me stands stinking the moral carcass of the gentleman from Ohio? Proof that some men are inferior. Endowed by their maker with dim wits, impermeable to reason, with cold pallid slime in their veins instead of hot red blood. You are more reptile than man George, so low and flat that the foot of man is incapable of crushing you.”
Stevens was a fierce opponent of slavery hence there was no mistaking his intent.
When principle trumped pragmatism; when people were at risk of continued enslavement and their right and hope as freedmen to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was in danger, then politeness and political correctness had no place.
A spade was called a spade.
Even the mostly positive and amiable Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) didn’t hold back in “Christmas Vacation,” the following edited for family-fare:
“Hey! If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I’d like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing (synonym as it turns out for doublespeak), low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, hopeless, heartless, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey poo he is!”
Hey, it was for the family.
But we, as if obsessed with ambiguity, in the group-hug crowd of today – or as Steve Tobak writing for Fox Business describes us: “the mob, hive, or herd” – where “everyone’s a winner and deserves a trophy” and where no child is left behind even if they don’t measure up, a ‘you can’t fight city hall’ apathy and a ‘go along to get along’ group-think mentality has relegated us all to an amorphous mass – like pudding or, as emeritus professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery, and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine describes our predicament: “pawn control.”
In his article entitled “The Status Quo: Learn to Challenge It,” Dr. Ben Carson writes, “In the game of chess, pawns are just used for the purposes of the royal pieces. In real life, many in power selfishly use ‘pawns’ — average citizens — while at the same time vociferously proclaiming that they are the only ones looking out for the interests of the pawns, who happily follow their commands, thinking that this ‘royal’ contingent has their interests in mind.
“By keeping large groups of Americans complacent and afraid of challenging authority, the position, wealth, and status of those in power is secure. The last thing they want is for independent-thinking citizens to realize that this country was designed for them and not for an arrogant ruling class. They dread the possibility of people scrutinizing their words and deeds, and holding them accountable for the same.”
It’s time to declare our independence says Dr. Carson.
“We must stop acting like pawns and start acting like masters of our own destiny.”
With no doubt major tongue-in-cheek Niccolò Machiavelli, nearly 500 years ago, described how people in power too often pontificate: “Occasionally words must serve to veil the facts. But let this happen in such a way that no one become aware of it; or, if it should be noticed, excuses must be at hand to be produced immediately.”
Such is a euphemism – “a word or phrase which pretends to communicate but doesn’t. It makes the bad seem good, the negative seem positive, the unnatural seem natural, the unpleasant seem attractive, or at least tolerable. It is language which avoids, shifts or denies responsibility. It conceals or prevents thought.”
But when the place is ablaze and we say nothing, what then?
Or observing the emperor has no clothes we fail to declare the same “for fear of seeming stupid or unfit for our positions,” what does it matter?
You lose. That’s what matters. Everybody loses.
In answer to ‘what then’ and ‘what does it matter,’ an incident from the world of sports.
In a tightly-contested pitcher’s duel July 2, 2011 at Safeco Field, San Diego Padres Cameron Maybin tossed aside his bat and sauntered on down to first base in the top of the fifth inning.
It was ball three.
But nobody said anything.
Everyone knows, even and especially the umpires, you can’t walk on a full-count unless you’ve been hit by a pitch which Maybin wasn’t.
But they didn’t say anything.
Seattle Mariners catcher Josh Bard didn’t speak up. Nor did pitcher Doug Fister.
Eric Wedge, Mariner’s manager didn’t storm out of the dugout, get in home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi’s face, and provide a heated discourse about blindness.
Nobody said nothin’.
Somebody should have said something. But nobody did. And because nobody said anything, Maybin would go on to score the only run of the game and the Mariners would lose.
For something that never should have happened.
Because nobody spoke up.
Declare your independence.