The Humanity Of Words - online book

A Primer Of Semantics

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146                  THE HUMANITY OF WORDS
Something may be appraised as "clean" or "dirty"; "moral" or "not moral"; "humane" or "fiendish"; etc. The user o such signs does so primarily to call out an attitude in the recipient, thus to prepare him for desired behavior.
Read, again, from Cousins, but this time to note the appraisors:
Almost without realizing it, we are adopting the language of madmen. We talk of "clean" hydrogen bombs, as though we are dealing with the ultimate in moral refinement. We use fairyland words to describe a mechanism that in a split second can incinerate millions of human beingsnot dummies or imitations but real people, exactly the kind that you see around your dinner table. What kind of monstrous imagination is it that can connect the word "clean" to a device that will put the match to man's cities? Yes; what is really meant by "clean" is that we may be able to build a bomb with a greatly reduced potential for causing radioactive fallout. But to call a hydrogen bomb or any bomb "clean" is to make an obscene farce of words.
Or we will use the term "sunshine units" to measure the amounts of radiation suffered by people as the result of nuclear explosions . . . To use the pretty words of the nursery in connection with such an effect is to engage in a fiendish act of moral shrinkage.
Look, first, at the language. Notice the profusion of adjectives: "fairyland words," "monstrous imagination," "obscene farce," "fiendish act," "moral shrinkage," etc. Even the nouns and the verbs are colored by appraisive significance. This is the language of "madmen." Not normal human beingsbut the insane! "Incinerate" is a sign that we are accustomed to associate with burning garbage; not with human beings such as sit around our dinner