In a wonderful commentary aptly titled "Evasive Language Results in Suboptimal Outcomes," John Leo assaults the manner in which language is used to obscure the truth—rather than to tell it. He is not concerned simply with biotechnology, which makes his biotech examples even more telling. This isn't a pro-life argument; it's a commentary on the debasement of public discourse that comes from avoiding calling things by their names.

This retreat into euphemism and evasion can be amusing and also, at the same time, very serious:

Massive layoffs in the auto industry have given us "volume-related production schedule adjustment" (GM usage) and "career alternative enhancement program" (Chrysler usage). And when the boss says, "We have to leverage our resources," he means, "You will be working weekends." If you don't, you risk being "deinstalled" (fired).

He cites William Lotz's book The New Doublespeak for many of his examples. They run all the way from "adult" entertainments and various politically correct evasions to "hull loss" for an air crash. Some will recall when "wardrobe malfunction" was recently added to the language.

But the most potent examples he gives come from the human life agenda:

Just as "abortion" has virtually disappeared from the names and language of abortion-rights groups, the word "embryo" is fading from the vocabulary of those who favor "embryonic stem-cell research." Since polls show that the public reacts negatively to the news that minute human embryos are created and destroyed in the research, the media now speak of "early stem cells." The troubling word "cloning" is fading too; "therapeutic cloning" is replaced by its technical term, "somatic cell nuclear transfer."

It's fascinating to see just what has ...

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Life Matters
Nigel M. de S. Cameron is now president and CEO of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies. His "Life Matters" column, a commentary on bioethics issues, ran from 2005 to 2006.
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