The Personalist Project

Buzzwords are dangerous things. But not just for the obvious reasons.

It's old news that whoever controls the language wields the real power. That's why Planned Parenthood is so tenaciously consistent about its linguistic contortions. One of its defenders, Jen Gunter, issues this bland correction to people who are going around saying that Planned Parenthood traffics in baby parts:  "The term baby is medically incorrect as it doesn't apply until birth." What the layman might unthinkingly call a baby is known to the scientist as "products of conception" and "fetal tissue."

Well, OK--it's not that these terms are inaccurate; it's just that they're scientifically useless. As many "alert readers" (as Dave Barry might say) have pointed out, we're all products of conception and we're all made out of tissue. The euphamisms are notable not so much for their scientific rigor as for their prize-winning vagueness. ("Tissue" has the added benefit of hinting at something completely disposable: a kleenex has no inherent value or dignity: its whole purpose, after all, is to be used and then discarded.)

But I'm thinking of another danger.

There's another kind of buzzword--think "dialogue," "compassion," "encounter," "equality," or even "love"--that raises red flags for anyone who's aware of how thoroughly they've been hijacked. The first evil is that words like these get eviscerated: their real meaning is excised and a false one inserted. "Dialogue" means not just speaking and listening, but viewing the back-and-forth itself as an accepatable substitute for defending goodness and defeating evil. "Compassion" has come to mean not suffering with the sick or the elderly but ending their troubles by getting rid of them. And so on.

But here's what else happens: people who do know better become unable to hear anything BUT the buzzword meaning of terms like, say, "mercy" or "sensitivity" or "encounter." We hear certain words and right away get our defenses up. Oh, come on, we think. You can't fool me that eaisily. You can't take me in.

And it becomes impossible to speak of the real thing.

This is natural enough: who wants to be the dupe of the language-destroyers, taking their euphamisms at face value? But if we let them rob us of the reality,we're doubly duped. They can't eviscerate the realities for us unless we allow them to. I guess that's what cynicism is: not just believing that nobody lives up to the good, the true, and the beautiful, but allowing your enemies to cut you off from the realities themselves. You go from refusing to be taken in by buzzwords to being unable to believe in real goodness.

I think this happens with Pope Francis' words a lot. He's full of genuine mercy and sensitivity and compassion, but who hasm't been trained to regard such qualities with suspicion? We end up unable to recognize the real thing even when it's staring us in the face.

Or think of a rainbow: it's one thing to be savvy enough to see how cleverly it's been hijacked by the celebrators of sexual confusion; it's another to give up without a fight so that spotting a real rainbow doesn't even call to mind God's promise of compassion, but only the strategy of your political enemies.

By all means, let's call Planned Parenthood out on its virtuoso juggling of euphemisms, so that they dupe as few people as possible. But let's also do what's in our own hands to make sure we're not cut off from the very thing we're fighting for.

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