Urgent: 3 days left! We still have $5,330 to match to win a $25,400 Challenge Grant! Can you help?
Click here to advertise on CatholicCulture.org

The Futility of Euphemism

By Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. (articles ) | Apr 22, 2003

An arresting paragraph from a CNN story on the Peterson murder case:

Regarding the killing of the unborn child, the complaint states, under the heading Termination of Pregnancy: "During the commission of the murder of Laci Denise Peterson, the defendant with knowledge that [she] was pregnant did inflict injury on [her] resulting in the termination of her pregnancy."

Why is this interesting? Because nobody believes that Scott Peterson is being charged with practicing medicine without a license. Killing the baby begat abortion; abortion begat termination of pregnancy. Now the semantic chain has circled upon itself, so that a murder committed with malice aforethought is reflexively called termination of pregnancy.

George Orwell's famous essay on language proposed that politically expedient equivocations are not really semantically ambiguous; they're used to ask and extend permission to do things whose true motives cannot be spoken out loud:

The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.

Does it work? Only in short term, and even then only when backed by force. In charging him with termination of pregnancy the Modesto police and the Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office understand perfectly, and want us to understand, the motive of the accused. That means for the past 30 years the women's health clinic surgeon in his white lab-coat and diplomas and grave, solicitous manner has been up to the same thing as (allegedly) Scott Peterson. No one was ever fooled.

An appeal from our founder, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus:

Dear reader: If you found the information on this page helpful in your pursuit of a better Catholic life, please support our work with a donation. Your donation will help us reach seven million Truth-seeking readers worldwide this year. Thank you!

Our Spring Challenge Grant
Progress toward our Spring Challenge Grant goal ($5,330 to go):
$25,400.00 $20,069.71
21% 79%
Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

There are no comments yet for this item.

Matching Campaign
Subscribe for free
Click here to advertise on CatholicCulture.org
Shop Amazon

Recent Catholic Commentary

Urgent! We need extra financial support between now and May 24th. 1 hours ago
Was Lewis “basically Catholic”? 16 hours ago
Reading The Diary of a Country Priest: Scandal May 20
Modeling King David’s awareness of God May 20
Has the sensus fidei disappeared? May 20

Top Catholic News

Most Important Stories of the Last 30 Days