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April 02, 2009

Orwellian Newspeak--to Our Detriment

Napolitano Here's a very scary thought about the corruption of language: Janet Napolitano, head of Homeland Security, has decided that "terrorism" is too nasty a word. She's decided it should be called--get this--"man-caused disasters." 

Besides being another crass, politically correct, and possibly successful attempt at dumbing down our language, I have a feeling that terrorists are having a good laugh at our expense.

For more Orwellian newspeak, go to Gene Edward Veith's blog. 

(Image © AP)

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Steve (SBK)

Shouldn't it be "human-caused disasters" if we're aiming to be politically correct?

Jason Taylor

If we are going to be "nice" is "man-caused disaster" all that nice? Calling someone a terrorist is calling him an enemy. One must be human to be an enemy. Come to think of it, it is even possible to pray for one's enemies.

Man Caused Disaster is abstract and dehumanizing.

Picture it,"The Lord of Hosts has scattered the Man caused disasters of Israel"

"If thy Man Caused Disaster hungers, feed him, if he thirsts, give him drink."

Or maybe one should go whole hog.

Instead of the first phrase say,"The Lord of the Military-industrial complex has carried out successful policies for the prevention of man-caused disasters threatening the Hebraic ethno-religious tradition."

And instead of the second phrase say,"The counterintuitive policy of supplimenting the nutritional needs of Man Caused Disasters is to be applied"

Gina Dalfonzo

To clarify, Jason, she's calling terrorism a "man-caused disaster," not terrorists themselves.

Kim Moreland

J.T., As a whole, the Politically Correct movement has been very dehumanising.
Thanks for reminding us of that aspect!
Cheers, Kim

Jason Taylor

Except those same people would also bridle at the idea of focusing on the "man" connected to the "man-caused disasters."

Besides isn't that patriarchal. Why can't there be "People-caused disasters"?

Jason Taylor

In any case why is "man-caused disaster" a particularly nuanced word? There are lots of things caused by man that are disasters besides terrorism.

I always defined Terrorism as,"the use by a non-state political faction of theatrical violence, outside of the customs and usages of war, for the purpose of gaining propaganda advantages". This is distinct from the direct use of such activity "contrary to the customs and usages" by the State which is "tyranny" or "war-crime" rather then terrorism.

And by the way, it is not true that one man's terrorist is another mans freedom fighter. Freedom-fighter theoretically refers to the end and terrorist theoretically refers to the means and not only is it possible to approve of one and not the other it has been done several times.
Furthermore everyone except possibly Atilla agrees that the presumption should be against violence and therefore the use of the term terrorist should be common and the use of freedom-fighter should be rare.
Finnally it is not hypocritical to say that it makes a difference whether or not it is done by a legitimate authority(however defined). No more then it is contradictory to say that a Vigilante is not the same as a Shiriff even though, as it happens, both of them hang people.


I see another danger here. Using the phrase man-caused disaster leaves a great deal of "wiggle room", so to speak. For example, will some future large oil spill blamed on human error be filed under and investigated as part of the category? Will a devastating wildfire mistakenly caused by human action be considered similarly? By simple definition, these two events are "man-caused disaster". The ramifications of associating these, or any number of other disasters that have human causes, with terrorist action is chilling.

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