Soft Language

September 11, 2009 – I loved George Carlin. I loved his linguistic abilities and his grasp of the absurd. I particularly loved this diatribe because it highlights how we are getting more and more uncomfortable with reality and need to soften everything as we seem to get weaker at dealing with the world around us. Just look at the self-help sections in bookstores and how big they have become, look at how the field of help-me-work-out-my-life-issues has proliferated in pandering to self-absorption. Suck it up Princess, the world is messy and we don’t always get what we want, so put on your big-girl panties and get on with life.

Soft Language

By George Carlin

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I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms, or euphemistic language. And American English is loaded with euphemisms. Cause Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent the kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation. For some reason, it just keeps getting worse. I’ll give you an example of that. There’s a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It’s when a fighting person’s nervous system has been stressed to it’s absolute peak and maximum. Can’t take anymore input. The nervous system has either (click) snapped or is about to snap. In the first world war, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! Battle fatigue. Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, were up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It’s totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car. Then of course, came the war in Viet Nam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ll bet you if we’d of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I’ll betcha. I’ll betcha.

But. But, it didn’t happen, and one of the reasons. One of the reasons is because we were using that soft language. That language that takes the life out of life. And it is a function of time. It does keep getting worse. I’ll give you another example. Sometime during my life. Sometime during my life, toilet paper became bathroom tissue. I wasn’t notified of this. No one asked me if I agreed with it. It just happened. Toilet paper became bathroom tissue. Sneakers became running shoes. False teeth became dental appliances. Medicine became medication. Information became directory assistance. The dump became the landfill. Car crashes became automobile accidents. Partly cloudy bacame partly sunny. Motels became motor lodges. House trailers became mobile homes. Used cars became previously owned transportation. Room service became guest-room dining. And constipation became occasional irregularity. When I was a little kid, if I got sick they wanted me to go to the hospital and see a doctor. Now they want me to go to a health maintenance organization…or a wellness center to consult a healthcare delivery professional. Poor people used to live in slums. Now the economically disadvantaged occupy substandard housing in the inner cities. And they’re broke! They’re broke! They don’t have a negative cash-flow position. They’re fucking broke! Cause a lot of them were fired. You know, fired. management wanted to curtail redundancies in the human resources area, so many people are no longer viable members of the workforce.

Smug, greedy, well-fed white people have invented a language to conceal their sins. It’s as simple as that. The CIA doesn’t kill anybody anymore, they neutralize people…or they depopulate the area. The government doesn’t lie, it engages in disinformation. The pentagon actually measures nuclear radiation in something they call sunshine units. Israeli murderers are called commandos. Arab commandos are called terrorists. Contra killers are called freedom fighters. Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part of it to us, do they? Never mention that part of it.

And…and some of this stuff is just silly, we all know that, like on the airlines, they say want to pre- board. Well, what the hell is pre-board, what does that mean? To get on before you get on? They say they’re going to pre-board those passengers in need of special assistance. Cripples! Simple honest direct language. There is no shame attached to the word cripple that I can find in any dictionary. No shame attached to it, in fact it’s a word used in bible translations. Jesus healed the cripples. Doesn’t take seven words to describe that condition. But we don’t have any cripples in this country anymore. We have The physically challenged. Is that a grotesque enough evasion for you? How about differently abled. I’ve heard them called that. Differently abled! You can’t even call these people handicapped anymore. They’ll say, “Were not handicapped. Were handicapable!” These poor people have been bullshitted by the system into believing that if you change the name of the condition, somehow you’ll change the condition. Well, hey cousin, ppsssspptttttt. Doesn’t happen. Doesn’t happen.

We have no more deaf people in this country, hearing impaired. No ones blind anymore, partially sighted or visually impaired. We have no more stupid people. Everyone has a learning disorder…or he’s minimally exceptional. How would you like to be told that about your child? “He’s minimally exceptional.” “Oohh, thank god for that.” Psychologists actually have started calling ugly people, those with severe appearance deficits. It’s getting so bad, that any day now I expect to hear a rape victim referred to as an unwilling sperm recipient.

And we have no more old people in this country. No more old people. We shipped them all away, and we brought in these senior citizens. Isn’t that a typically American twentieth century phrase? Bloodless, lifeless, no pulse in one of them. A senior citizen. But I’ve accepted that one, I’ve come to terms with it. I know it’s to stay. We’ll never get rid of it. That’s what they’re going to be called, so I’ll relax on that, but the one I do resist. The one I keep resisting is when they look at an old guy and they’ll say, “Look at him Dan! He’s ninety years young.” Imagine the fear of aging that reveals. To not even be able to use the word “old” to describe somebody. To have to use an antonym. And fear of aging is natural. It’s universal. Isn’t it? We all have that. No one wants to get old. No one wants to die, but we do! So we bullshit ourselves. I started bullshitting myself when I got to my forties. As soon as I got into my forties I’d look in the mirror and I’d say, “well, I…I guess I’m getting…older.” Older sounds a little better than old doesn’t it? Sounds like it might even last a little longer. Bullshit, I’m getting old! And it’s okay, because thanks to our fear of death in this country, I won’t have to die…I’ll pass away. Or I’ll expire like a magazine subscription. If it happens in the hospital, they’ll call it a terminal episode. The insurance company will refer to it as negative patient-care outcome. And if it’s the result of malpractice, they’ll say it was a therapeutic misadventure. I’m telling you, some of this language makes me want to vomit. Well, maybe not vomit. Makes me want to engage in an involuntary personal protein spill.

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