A lengthy rumination from George Carlin, one of my favorite angry, funny people, brought to mind by Tom and The Happy Tutor.

“You can’t be afraid of words that speak the truth. I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms or euphemistic language. And American english is loaded with euphemisms. Because Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent a kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it. And it gets worse with every generation. For some reason it just keeps getting worse.

I’ll give you an example of that. There’s a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It’s when a fighting person’s nervous system has been stressed to it’s absolute peak and maximum, can’t take any more input. The nervous system has either snapped or is about to snap. In the first world war that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables. Shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was 70 years ago. Then a whole generation went by. And the second world war came along and the very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to be as hard to say. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock…battle fatigue.

Then we had the war in Korea in 1950. Madison Avenue was riding high by that time. And the very same combat condition was called Operational Exhaustion. Hey we’re up to 8 syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase now. It’s totally sterile now. Operational Exhaustion: sounds like something that might happen to your car. Then of course came the war in Vietnam, which has only been over for about 16 or 17 years. And thanks to the lies and deceit surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise that the very same condition was called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Still 8 syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen. And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I bet you, if we’d still been calling it shell shock, some of those Vietnam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I bet you that.

But it didn’t happen. And one of the reasons is because we were using that soft language, that language that takes out the life out of life. And it is a function of time it does keep getting worse.

Give you another example. Sometime during my life toilet paper became bathroom tissue. I wasn’t notified of this. No one asked me if I agreed with it. It just happened. Toilet paper became bathroom tissue. Sneakers became running shoes. False teeth became dental appliances. Medicine became medication. Information became directory assistance. The dump became the land fill. Car crashes became automobile accidents. Partly cloudy became partly sunny. Motels became motor lodges. House trailers became mobile homes. Used cars became previously owned transportation. Room service became guest room dining. Constipation became occasional irregularity.

When I was a little kid if I got sick they wanted me to go to a hospital and see the doctor. Now they want me to go to a health maintenance organization. Or a wellness center to consult a health care delivery professional. Poor people used to live in slums. Now the economically disadvantaged occupy sub-standard housing in the inner cities. And they’re broke! They’re broke. They don’t have a negative cash flow position. They’re f–kin’ broke! Because a lot of them were fired. You know, fired. Management wanted to curtail redundancies in the human resources area. So many people are no longer viable members of the work force.

Smug, greedy well-fed white people have invented a language to conceal their sins. It’s as simple as that. The CIA doesn’t kill people anymore, they neutralize people, or they depopulate the area. The government doesn’t lie, it engages in disinformation. The pentagon actually measures radiation in something they call sunshine units. Israeli murderers are called commandos. Arab commandos are called terrorists. Contra killers are called freedom fighters. Well if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part of it to us, do they?

And some of this stuff is just silly. We know that. Like when the airlines tell us to pre-board. What the hell is pre-board? What does that mean? To get on before you get on?

They say they’re going to pre-board those passengers in need of special assistance …cripples! Simple honest direct language. There’s no shame attached to the word cripple I can find in any dictionary. In fact it’s a word used in Bible translations. “Jesus healed the cripples.” Doesn’t take seven words to describe that condition. But we don’t have cripples in this country anymore. We have the physically challenged. Is that a grotesque enough evasion for you? How about differently-abled? I’ve heard them called that. Differently-abled! You can’t even call these people handicapped anymore. They say: “We’re not handicapped, we’re handy capable!” These poor people have been bullsh-tted by the system into believing that if you change the name of the condition somehow you’ll change the condition. Well hey cousin … doesn’t happen!

We have no more deaf people in this country. Hearing impaired. No more blind people. Partially sighted or visually impaired. No more stupid people, everyone has a learning disorder. Or he’s minimally exceptional. How would you like to told that about your child? ‘He’s minimally exceptional.’ Psychologists have actually started calling ugly people those with severe appearance deficits. It’s getting so bad that any day now I expect to hear a rape victim referred to as an unwilling sperm recipient!

And we have no more old people in this country. No more old people. We shipped them all away and we brought in these senior citizens. Isn’t that a typically American twentieth century phrase? Bloodless. Lifeless. No pulse in one of them. A senior citizen. But I’ve accepted that one. I’ve come to terms with it. I know it’s here to stay. We’ll never get rid of it. But the one I do resist, the one I keep resisting, is when they look at an old guy and say, “Look at him Dan, he’s ninety years young.” Imagine the fear of aging that reveals. To not even be able to use the word old to describe someone. To have to use an antonym.

And fear of aging is natural. It’s universal, isn’t it? We all have that. No one wants to get old. No one wants to die. But we do. So we con ourselves. I started conning myself when I got in my forties. I’d look in the mirror and say, “Well…I guess I’m getting …older.” Older sounds a little better than old, doesn’t it? Sounds like it might even last a little longer. I’m getting old. And it’s okay. Because thanks to our fear of death in this country I won’t have to die. I’ll pass away. Or I’ll expire, like a magazine subscription. If it happens in the hospital they’ll call it a terminal episode. The insurance company will refer to it as negative patient care outcome. And if it’s the result of malpractice they’ll say it was a therapeutic misadventure.

I’m telling ya, some of this language makes me want to vomit. Well, maybe not vomit …makes me want to engage in an involuntary personal protein spill.”

[edited from transcript found here.]

People Say Stuff Sometimes

Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. Right on. Read a news story yesterday where someone at the Pentagon said that snipers in Basra were being ‘deleted’. Jesus.

  2. “Embedded journalist,” “targets of opportunity” and, my personal favorite, “capitulate” instead of “surrender” for the Iraqi troops. Um, I’m sorry, but capitulating IS fucking surrendering, minus the dinner party formality.

  3. He had me while he was talking about over-complicating and dehumanizing language. Then he lost me when he started ranting about p.c. terms.
    Maybe I’m too liberal for my own good, but I think it’s better to say “disabled” rather than “cripple”. I prefer “senior citizen” to “old person”. These terms humanize and make people think about what they’re really saying–accomplishing the opposite of what the author claims.
    I realize he was exaggerating to make a point, but I think he stomped it into a heaping pile on the ground. We have to live with each other. I think the p.c. can go too far, and I think mitigating what’s really going on in violent times is a huge cop-out, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.

  4. I don’t care how long you have been alive, you act like a kid! This is weak political banter you spread about. Your thoughts only accept what your lefty mind will allow. Todays article is a fine example.
    I can guess very easily what kind of person you are. You are white. You were pampered and spoiled by your wealthy parents. you avoid real work and become soft in front of computer games and toys. You enjoy forum arguments and spouting off on the computer, but in person you are passive. You are part of the so called world culture. Can you not see it? Women scare you or you are gay – it is so with all North American computer people.
    It does me no good to lecture here. I will be 57 in a month, I was born in Poland and I am lucky to have the opportunities in life I was given. It does no good to spread hate. Try looking at the world from different eyes, you may see something new.

  5. good riddance…

  6. Come back, NIEWIADOMSKI! I want to play, in my soft, white, homoerotic, lazy, passive, world-culture way!
    Your unerring analysis of my character has left me shocked and awed, NIEWIADOMSKI. I am aghast that the veils I have so carefully raised around myself have been ripped away with such manly, immigrant-vigor force! I swoon at your insight! Your use of irony in deploying ad hominem attacks on me for trading barbs in an internet forum, while doing it in an internet forum (and my own, no less) has robbed me of my ability to make any kind of riposte! I am flabbergasted, and will immediately change my hate-filled ways!
    Or (to borrow a phrase from a friend), please slowly and gently fuck the fuck off, you self-important dipshit.
    You know nothing of me, and judging by your bravery and candour here, I have no desire to know you.

  7. “These terms humanize and make people think about what they’re really saying–accomplishing the opposite of what the author claims.”
    I’d have to disagree with you, there Kimberly. I am inclined to agree with George, that these kinds of ‘grotesque evasions’ dehumanize and hide reality, and allow people to evade thinking about the unpleasant or difficult things they’re talking about. It must be said, too, that I think this rant of his was from the early ’90s, when the anti-PC crusade (which was, of course, as stupid and virulent in many ways as the Politically Correct brigades) was at its peak…

  8. Golly – I guess I upset our Polish Ubermensch (or someone who agrees with him) so much that he goatse’d me.
    How clever, in a old-hat, unimaginative, 1999 kind of way. Like I haven’t seen that picture a thousand times before, in a thousand SA photoshops.
    Astonishingly, laughably lame.
    The image has been deleted, and I’ve disallowed img tags, at least for the moment.

  9. In the meantime, though, here’s a response for ya, my unimaginative friend.

  10. I almost get where NIEWIADOMSKI is coming from, through the haze of irrelevance and illogic, and might get closer if the fucking text didn’t keep moving every time I try to click or highlight it.
    “It does no good to spread hate.” So true; Bush is amply demonstrating the truth of that.
    Perhaps, maybe, if NIEWIADOMSKI had read back far enough through this journal, s/he might have seen that the only hate you’ve expressed is of ignorance, intolerance, bigotism and bad faith. And that little tirades like that do othing to spread love.
    But when s/he equates gay with passivity, I give up. No, I’m not gay, though maybe life might’ve been easier if I were. Am I alone here in imagining a 6’6″ leather-clad, biker dude from SF unceremoniously demonstrating to NIEWIADOMSKI just how “passive” gays are?

  11. if the fucking text didn’t keep moving every time I try to click or highlight it.
    Andrew : is this a new behaviour with your browser? I’ve made some changes in the individual archive layout recently…

  12. I hasten to add that I’m neither passive nor gay (you know, not that there’s anything wrong with that (heh)), and though I am not a violent man, have never gotten into a dust-up that I didn’t finish. The kind of nastiness that people like our friend NIEWIADOMSKI display here, because they feel it appropriate to attack me personally rather than argue with anything I might have to say…it frustrates me no end, because if they had the temerity and geographical proximity to deliver their abuse to my face, well, I’d knock them straight onto their asses.
    Which is empty bluster when it’s only text, I’m aware, but no less true for all that. Ask the Bearman, my friend of 25 years who commented above – he’s seen me when I lose my mild and teddy-bear-like temper…

  13. Carlin is a genius. I’m happy you have his words here.

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