Companion Language

I’ll say right up front that I have an inclination to be politically correct in my actions and speech. I think it’s important to be sensitive to other people’s feelings and experiences. But I’ll also say I have the inclination to believe that people (Americans, in particular) take political correctness MUCH too far. It’s one thing to use a correct term to be sensitive to a particular group of people, but it’s quite another thing to use a correct term to shamefully soften a situation that warrants better attention.

A local news station, WESH Channel 2, posted a story today about The Journal of Animal Ethics calling for a change in how we refer to animals.

My social media response about this story was:

Out: “pets.”
In: “companion animals.”

Out: “pests.”
In: “free-roaming animals.”

GAH! #gagmewithaspoon

By inventing the phase, “companion animal,” these people are just creating what I’m going to call “companion language.” It’s ridiculous, stupid, and foolish. We don’t need phrases unnecessarily created for the purpose of making us feel good.

We’re all fans of eliminating animal cruelty, but I assure you that our PETS and PESTS don’t care what we call them. Can we stop adding needless syllables to words and phrases that work perfectly fine as they are?

I’ll leave you with a transcript of George Carlin’s most excellent monologue on the subject:

I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms, or euphemistic language. And American English is loaded with euphemisms, because Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation. For some reason, it just keeps getting worse.

I’ll give you an example of that. There’s a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It’s when a fighting person’s nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak and maximum. Can’t take anymore input. The nervous system has either snapped or is about to snap. In the first world war, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago.

Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along and the very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock.

Shell shock!

Battle fatigue.

Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, were up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It’s totally sterile now.

Operational exhaustion.

Sounds like something that might happen to your car.

Then of course came the war in Viet Nam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon.

Post-traumatic stress disorder.

I’ll bet you if we had still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I’ll betcha. I’ll betcha.

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