The Obama administration has come under intense criticism for replacing the term "war on terror" with the emaciated euphemism "overseas contingency operations," and for referring to individual acts of terror as "man-caused disasters."
This semi-official attempt to disassociate the administration from the fierce rhetoric favored by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney has enraged Americans on both the right and left. Many feel that such vaporous bureaucratese is a self-emasculating action that plunges us into an Orwellian world where words have no emotional connection with the horrors they purport to describe.
Yet, if the intention of the Obama administration is to tone down the confrontational rhetoric being used by our enemies, the effort is already reaping results. This week, in a pronounced shift from its usual theatrical style, the Taliban announced that it will no longer refer to its favorite method of murder as "beheadings," but will henceforth employ the expression "cephalic attrition." "Flayings" -- a barbarously exotic style of execution that has been popular in this part of the world since before the time of Alexander -- will now be described as "unsolicited epidermal reconfigurations." In a similar vein, lopping off captives' arms will now be referred to as "appendage furloughing," while public floggings of teenaged girls will from here on out be spoken of as "metajudicial interfacing."
A Taliban spokesman reached in Pakistan said that the new phrasing was being implemented as a way of eliminating the negative associations triggered by more graphic terminology. "The term 'beheading' has a quasi-medieval undertone that we're trying to get away from," he explained. "The term 'cephalic attrition' brings the Taliban into the 21st century. It's not that we disapprove of beheadings; it's just that the word no longer meshes with the zeitgeist of the era. This is the same reason we have replaced the term 'jihad' with 'booka-bonga-bippo,' which has a more zesty, urban, youthful, 'now' feel. When you're recruiting teenagers to your movement, you don't want them to feel that going on jihad won't leave any time for youthful hijinks."
Central Asia is not the only place where the coarse terminology of the past is being phased out. In Darfur, the words "ethnic cleansing" are no longer in use, either by rebels nor by the government itself. Instead, the practice of targeting a particular tribe or sect or ethnic group for extinction is being called "unconditional demographic redeployment." In much the same spirit, the archaic term "genocide" -- so broad and vague as to be meaningless -- has now been supplanted by "maximum-intensity racial profiling."
By Any Other Name
Great article by Joe Queenan at the WSJ today. Here is the start: