Baby Killing or Termination of Pregnancy? Loaded Language in Our World

By Alexander Pralea, Editor

Pro-choice or Pro-death?

Pro-life or Pro-Birth?

Inappropriate Contact or Rape?

Pro-marriage equality or Anti-traditional marriage?

In today’s world, hyper-politicization has resulted in the use of loaded language to manipulate the reader into agreeing with the author. These examples regarding gay marriage (or marriage equality, depending on one’s perspective) and abortion (or pregnancy termination, again, depending on one’s perspective) represent the most salient examples of charged words that carry different connotations. “Marriage equality” thrusts the argument into a larger argument about the rights of all people, while “gay marriage” isolates the issue to a specific group of people. The emotionally charged connotations of “baby killing” transform the issue of abortion into a moral and religious issue, whereas “pregnancy termination” minimizes the significance of the procedure. One’s use of each word is based on his or her political ideology, something that heralds back to George Orwell’s warning about the dangers of Newspeak.

 In 1984, George Orwell paints an unsettling picture of a world ruled by an authoritarian regime in which basic rights are infringed upon. Most crucially, he describes the ruling government’s employment of “Newspeak” as an official policy designed to limit free thought. By reducing speech to circumlocutions and euphemisms, public servants (or bureaucrats) seek to enforce their hegemony on the proletariat. Uprooting the very core of a language allows them to both eliminate the ability to express a need for freedom and also enforce what is aptly called “goodthink” on the masses. Through his novel, Orwell intended to combat the growing tide of communism, but his clever political commentary extends to today’s debate concerning the role of language. Nowadays, the nuances between different words give propagandists, in the form of normal citizens, the potential to warp public opinion as they see fit. Speakers can easily bombard their speech with religiously or politically controversial words to change how they are interpreted. This has dangerous implications that risk irreconcilably dividing opposing factions. After all, simple words can cause war.

Emotionally charged words are designed to strike at the heart in eliciting fear, disdain, or other types of passion, which can be contorted to create political enemies and precipitate violence. For example, in the years prior to the Yugoslav War, radical Serbs began demonizing Bosnians and Croats, as the Ustashe and Turks respectively [1]. Opponents were coalesced into rigid boxes that allowed them to be dehumanized; to brainwashed supports of the Milosevic regime, the Croats were defined as members of the ultra-Catholic, ultra-nationalist WWII Ustashe militant group that had committed genocide against the Serbs. Similarly, the Bosnian Muslims were confined to Turks, a term that transformed them into alien overrulers transplanted onto a foreign soil, to which they had no cultural connection. That logical processing and critical thinking had no role meant that compromises could not be reached, and instead, the situation devolved into hate.

In today’s world, we often use charged words to mask our own lack of meaning or hide the controversial aspects of our beliefs. For example, when we say collateral damage, targeted killings, or overseas contingency operations, we dehumanize the inhabitants of other countries and defend our own military practices by verbalizing them in a way that does not reference the loss of human capital. In minimizing the intrinsic values of their lives, we transform today’s Syrians into yesterday’s Ustashe and Turks and perpetuate a cycle of ignorance. Characterizing them as impersonal inhabitants of a third-world country promotes a lack of cultural understanding, which is necessary in an ever-globalizing world. If we look at other aspects of the world with rose-filtered glasses, as the fact that the three most used words by American presidents are “exceptional,” “indispensable,” and “greatest,” we live in an idealized version of the present [2]. This idealization cannot persist, considering that internal disputes recoil around the world. Therefore, when we normalize the use of charged words we do more than engage the greedy public arena; we pull Americans further apart, something that affects us outside the bounds of our nation.  Will we as Americans continue to tolerate the use of illogical, biased charged words that further entrench us in our own beliefs, or will we embrace internal and international cooperation and understanding?