Changing Language, Changing Perceptions

Euphemisms are a common, indirect way to refer to something that many people would consider unpleasant or embarrassing. For example, unemployed people might say that they are “between jobs.” Another euphemism that I recently came across for unemployment that made me laugh is “embarking on a journey of self-discovery.” A common euphemism for a past-due bill is an “outstanding payment,” which also makes me laugh. “Outstanding,” really?!

Some euphemisms, on the other hand, are not so amusing but are deliberately designed to throw a positive spin on something controversial, to say the least. One euphemism that has come into vogue fairly recently is “gender-affirming care.” This does not refer to providing care to someone based on their biological sex, but to whatever gender they identify with on a given day. More specifically, it encompasses helping someone, including (especially?) children, transition from their biological sex to the opposite sex. I’ve written about this in a previous post, but there are four stages in transitioning: social, puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and sex reassignment surgery. The fourth stage could be referred to in other not-so-euphemistic ways, such as “genital mutilation.” However, the various powers that be are of course not going to use such a pejorative phrase.

Another example, which has been in common usage for so long that people no longer think of it as a euphemism, is “pro-choice.” This is much more palatable than “pro-abortion,” for example. Admittedly, those on the other side commonly use the phrase “pro-life” rather than “anti-abortion.” In the wake of the Supreme Court decision this summer to turn this issue over to the states, perhaps you’ve seen the sign “Abortion Saves Lives” at protests. Just stop and think about that for a moment!

Another issue having to do with life and death is euthanasia. I remember in the 1980s when I was in college, euthanasia was referred to as “mercy killing.” However, that didn’t last, of course, and now it is commonly referred to as the much-more-pleasant-sounding “Death with Dignity.” I have written about end-of-life issues in a previous post; click here if you’re interested: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2020/10/22/when-is-it-right-to-die/

In the economic sphere, an example of trying to throw a positive spin on something is the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act. After its passage (but not before), even CNN and MSNBC admitted that this act would have a negligible effect on lowering inflation, echoing what the Congressional Budget Office had said. If you do the math, you will discover that 84.4% of the so-called Inflation Reduction Act is for “energy security and climate change.” What that means is basically “let’s go green.” This is not the place for me to go into detail about energy sources, but it’s obvious that the current administration is not in favor of either fossil fuels or nuclear energy. Is it wise to put essentially all of your eggs in one energy basket? But I digress. Back to the main point, which is that the “Inflation Reduction Act” will not lower the rate of inflation!

Another recent example in the economic sphere of trying to obfuscate facts is the term “recession,” which has been commonly understood for several decades as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP (Gross Domestic Product). However, the current administration has refused to concede that the U.S. is in a recession. How much better would it be just to admit it and then to state something like, “We are working to re-energize the U.S. economy?”

Another area where those in power try to put a positive spin on a phenomenon is violence. During the riots two years ago in the wake of George Floyd’s death, there were two what I regard as particularly seminal moments. The first one was on May 29, 2020, when an MSNBC reporter, standing in front of a burning building in Minneapolis, said, “This is mostly a protest. It is not generally speaking unruly.” Three months later, following the shooting death of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a CNN reporter, standing in front of a raging fire, was reporting on what was happening. At the bottom of the screen was the caption “Fiery But Mostly Peaceful Protests After Police Shooting.” Both MSNBC and CNN were widely mocked, and rightly so, for referring to these riots as “protests,” while adding fuel to the mockery fire with the words “not…unruly” and “mostly peaceful.”

Compare those 2020 riots with the peaceful, albeit sometimes vociferous, protests at school-board meetings by parents in 2021. The NSBA (National School Boards Association) wrote a letter to the Biden administration including the following: “As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.” The fact is, there have been some threats (mostly not at the school-board meetings but in letters), but no violence. The NSBA later apologized for the letter, but the damage was done. This characterization of words as “violence” is in keeping with the growing tendency on university campuses to refer to ideas that you disagree with as “violence.” Just to reiterate, during the summer of 2020 riots, there were plenty of acts of violence, including the aforementioned fires, but also violent looting and murders.

I’m sorry to say that even among pastors, I’ve noticed a word change that I think is significant. Have you heard the word “sin” lately? Thankfully, in the church that my wife and I are now a part of, our pastor is not afraid to use this word. However, at a previous church, it had been a long time since I’d heard it; the same is true with some, but thankfully not all, other pastors that I’ve heard and read. A common substitute is “mistake” or “wrong choice.” Let’s be clear: our sin is abhorrent to our holy God; that’s why Jesus died for us!

Thankfully, even as the powers that be, including some pastors, sometimes use euphemistic and obfuscating language, this is what the Lord tells us in Isaiah 40:6: “All men are like grass.” Two verses later, we are told, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever.” The apostle Peter also quotes these words in 1 Peter 1:24-25. Yes, even as the world around us continues to change at lightning speed, including language, the Word of God stands forever, unchanging. We can always trust the Lord and His Word.

12 thoughts on “Changing Language, Changing Perceptions

  1. I got tired of trying to reset my password. So here is my comment.

    I am glad you wrote about this. This information is so needed.

    George Carlin was a wonder in dealing with euphemisms, pointing out language-altering words and meanings. As he got older, he got very harsh and to the point. I loved his monologues. Unfortunately, he stepped way over the line, with his language, F-word usage and other words. And his rants concerning religions, were at times, on the money, and he nailed it, pointing out the absurdity and hypocrisies many held to and did. But he didn’t know when to stop, and kept on, until he was so incorrect I could no longer listen to him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Brother Michael. Regarding George Carlin: I remember him from my teen years, but I didn’t listen to him much because, as you point out, he used a lot of foul language. It’s too bad because without it, he could have still made a lot of valid points and perhaps gotten more people to listen to him. I guess he was a forerunner of Mr. “Shock Jock” Howard Stern in some ways. It’s interesting you mention Carlin and his foul language because I have been planning to write a post about “cussing” soon.

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  2. Examples of euphemisms that I have come across over the years include “sex worker” (prostitute), “collateral damage” (unintended civilian casualties), and “undocumented immigrant” (illegal alien).

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      1. Keith, actually euphemisms are quite old, they predate the era of political correctness, for instance I heard and read such expressions as ” passed away” or “departed” rather than died.

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  3. I am a sinner. I ask you to pray a lot for me because now I have chosen God and I will follow his Light and His Love. I have committed many sins and I cry a lot because I have been very naive and unhappy and I have been a slave to my desires. I do not know how to pray well, I am very imperfect in everything I do and I ask for your help, because perhaps he does not listen to me, because I have sinned too much. I have been like Magdalene and now there are many negative energies trying to lead me astray, to divert my soul. Please, can you pray with me, please?
    I read the Annie’s blog and she’s helping me returning to God’s words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My heart goes out to you. I am so thankful that you have chosen to follow the Lord!! I want you to know that everyone is a slave to sin until they have made the decision to live for Jesus. You mentioned that you have committed many sins. In that light, read Jesus’ words to the woman who had anointed His feet with perfume in Luke 7:47-48: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

      I can tell that you have a desire to live for the Lord now; you don’t have to wonder whether He listens to you when you pray. One thing I would encourage you to do is when you sin, as we all still do, to confess it to Him in prayer and ask for forgiveness; He will forgive you. I have asked the Lord to forgive you and to continue to give you the desire to live in a way that is pleasing to Him. I will continue to pray for you as you come to mind.

      I am honored that you have chosen to follow my blog, and you are more than welcome to visit any time. Let me know any time you have any questions. Oh, and I’m thankful that you are also reading Annie’s blog; she is a faithful sister in Christ that I have gotten to know online.

      May our Lord bless you, my sister!

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  4. I read this post yesterday. And today, while communicating with a student via wechat, when she said, “I’m such a poor student.” I found myself saying “You are not ‘poor’, you just have much room to improve. ” Amusing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmmm… could that statement include some of the false modesty that people in your country are known for? Regardless, Shirley, you’re a good teacher for taking the opportunity to encourage your “poor” student to strive for improvement!

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