John Leo

In politics, Republicans and Democrats seem to be evolving separate languages or, at least, long lists of different nouns. Democrats warn of “global warming”; Republicans talk calmly about “climate change.” Democrats are starting to call themselves “progressives.” Republicans just say “liberals.” Other Republican/Democratic partisan pairs include trial lawyer/personal injury lawyer, death tax/estate tax, collateral damage/civilian dead, quotas/goals and timetables, campus race preferences/race-sensitive admissions, indoctrination/sensitivity training, faith-based/religious, school choice/school vouchers, personal accounts/privatization, tax relief/tax cuts, illegal/undocumented, fetus/uterine contents, military difficulties/quagmire, rendition/shipping captives out for torture, racial charlatan Al Sharpton/civil rights activist Al Sharpton, John Kerry’s weaseling/John Kerry’s nuanced approach.

Most of us have no problem using the word “terrorists” for people who regularly blow up innocent bystanders for political effect. But the mainstream media still shun the “T” word in favor of “insurgents” or “the resistance.” The “insurgents” in Iraq aren’t really “insurging.” They are blowing up large numbers of random people. But the press keeps talking about activists, rebels, militants, fighters, assailants, attackers, hostage-takers, etc., etc. Some media outlets are willing to refer to “acts of terrorism,” as long as they don’t have to call the people who perform those acts “terrorists.” We have sin, but there are no sinners.

In America’s clone wars, politicians have argued for years over the alleged distinction between “therapeutic cloning” and “reproductive cloning.” But the only difference is in the intent of the scientists who manipulate the embryos. The procedures and the biological entities created are the same.

The problem for euphemizers is how to get rid of the scary words “clone” and “embryo.” Early efforts to create soothing new terms such as “ovasome,” “embryolike entities,” and “activated egg” failed to catch on. So the International Society for Stem Cell Research opted for jargon. The word “cloning” was dropped in favor of “somatic cell nuclear transfer” to produce “human NT blastocysts,” from which scientists in South Korea, who did not utter the word “clone,” recently extracted “hESC.” Sustainable language added. Linguistic problem solved.

For help on this column, my thanks to William Lutz, author of Doublespeak Defined and a distinguished authority on false and deformed language.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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