~ 10 December 2004 ~

Euphemisms for Evil

Albert Mohler’s column today regarding Ralph Keyes’ new book, The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life is especially insightful. This paragraph got me thinking:

As evidence of this cultural acceptance of lying, Keyes notes the rise of euphemisms for deception. “We no longer tell lies. Instead we ‘misspeak.’ We ‘exaggerate.’ We ‘exercise poor judgment.’ ‘Mistakes were made,’ we say. The term ‘deceive’ gives way to the more playful ‘spin.’ At worst, saying ‘I wasn’t truthful’ sounds better than ‘I lied’.” Keyes suggests that the use of such euphemisms is a new cultural syndrome he identifies as “euphemasia.” This would include everything from terms such as “credibility gap,” to Winston Churchill’s “terminological inexactitudes.”

This “euphemasia” applies not only to telling lies, but to the larger spectrum of sin in general. Think about it. When was the last time you heard someone say “I sinned” with regard to a wrong action? The common vocaublary is “I made a mistake.” It’s even rare to hear someone say that they were wrong—all wrongdoing is elevated to the level of “mistake.”

When one does speak of their own wrongdoing, it’s often relegated to a more passive voice. The action is considered to be wrong, not the person. Consider President Clinton’s “confession” to the public regarding the Lewinsky affair:

As you know, in a deposition in January, I was asked questions about my relationship with Monica Lewinsky. While my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information. Indeed, I did have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible.

Clinton wanted the hearer to assume that his judgment is normally appropriate, and his adultery was a mere “lapse in judgment.”

The greater problem is that it is not only the public scoundrel-types who lighten the load of their own wrongdoings. I know of no area of society, secular or religious, that is not affected by some level of “euphemasia.”

When sin is euphemised, we tend to view it more warmly than before. We tell ourselves that everybody makes mistakes, after all. All the while, we deny our own sinful nature, pretending it does not exist—and that is the greatest mistake we could ever make.

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  1. Pingback: TruePravda » Struggling with Euphemisms: How evangelicals soften sin and sidestep guilt on June 22, 2007

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