Saturday, December 16, 2006

Modern-Day Doublespeak

Modern-Day Doublespeak, originally uploaded by satya cacananda.

One of my favorite bloggers, Ursula-in-Munich, speaks English as a second language and recently mentioned something in passing that really piqued my interest:

A side note: health insurance is translated illness insurance, when I translate it word by word from German to English. Interesting.

So in German it's illness insurance. Makes sense to me. After all, you're covering your ass in case you get sick.

But American English tends to put a positive spin on things. Because the further we distance ourselves from reality, the more we can compartmentalize it and avoid experiencing it. You know -- denial.

This doesn't just apply to words, but to things like the killing and selling of animals as food. When we go to the supermarket, we see pretty cuts of dyed, marbled meat that bear no relation whatsoever to the cute animals that we like to watch frolic on Animal Planet. We distance ourselves from it so we can eat it.

I think this is partly why westerners freak out when they go to India and see goats hanging from their heels in store shops and dead human bodies garlanded with flowers being carried down the street.

Personally, I find the lack of pretense refreshing.

There was something very visceral and healing about watching the bodies of both my grandmother and my mother rolling into the cremation oven at the funeral home and seeing them consumed by flames.

When I lived in Spain I loved to sip Mahou and eat serrano bocadillos at the Museo del Jamon (Ham Museum), where dozens of smoked pig flanks hung from the ceiling. I was also addicted to the bullfights, and went every Sunday. Afterwards I used to climb up to the window of the the little slaughterhouse behind the ring, and surreptitiously watch them butcher the freshly-killed bulls. Although I grew up on a farm and we ate some of our own animals I never saw the process firsthand (although I once watched my grandmother slice off a chicken's head with an ax -- it really did run around afterwards). Watching them pull apart the steaming animal and seeing the blood and entrails drip out of it solved the mystery of where the meat came from (it wasn't until two years later that I became the militant vegetarian I remain today).

But usually the denial process applies to language.

In the olden days, when someone died, they used to lay out the dead body at home -- in the parlor. People would congregate and mourn at home. But someone (undertakers?) decided that was too grotesque, and people started sending the bodies to the funeral parlor. So as not to confuse it with death, the parlor became the living room.

That beat-up car in the lot is not "used" -- it's "pre-owned."

Best Buy doesn't have a "Complaint Department" -- it has "Customer Fulfillment"

The child is not "retarded" -- it's "special."

He's not a spoiled brat -- he has ADD.

The girl is not an idiot -- she has a learning disablity.

A person is not "crippled" -- it is "disabled."

He's not "blind" -- he's "sight-impaired."

It's not a failed marriage -- it's a "starter" marriage.

It's not gambling -- it's gaming.

Elderly people are not "old" -- they're "seniors."

It's not illness and decline - it's the golden years.

It's not dementia -- it's Alzheimer's.

It's not "war," it's "peacekeeping" or "spreading democracy."

It's not fascism, it's homeland security.

And in yoga it's not an "injury" -- it's an "opening."

Oh wait -- that last one comes from India.


There goes my theory.

Or perhaps not.

One could say it's the exception that proves the rule....

1 comment:

  1. Damn! you just made me crave jamon.