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A spade is a spade: why correct language is so important

By Paul Russell - posted Monday, 29 August 2016

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible... Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language" (1946)

Some matters of state and public interest can stand the occasional euphemism or fuzzy acronym. But in a debate that most literally is about life and death, there's too much at stake to tolerate such fudging.

We've all heard them: phrases like 'dignity in dying', 'assisted dying' and 'medically assisted dying' (or MAD! Just think about it!) just to name a few. If we were to trace these euphemisms to their origins on a time line we would see clearly a progression or, perhaps more accurately, an evolution that stretches back to organisations once upon a time more accurately called 'Voluntary Euthanasia' or 'Hemlock' societies.


At the time Orwell wrote his famous essay he must have been thinking of other examples. The adoption of euphemisms to disguise what is and always has been about doctors killing people or the aiding and abetting of suicide by the medical profession did not really surface until much later when the term 'right-to-die' first came into use in the 1970s.

Thankfully, not everyone has been led gullibly to adopt such euphemisms. A recent example from a television station in Denver, Colorado is a shining example of clear thinking. A ballot initiative has been registered in that state for assisted suicide laws.

The newscaster at KUSA 9News explains:

"Supporters of that law have asked 9NEWS not to call it assisted "suicide." They'd rather we call it "medical aid in dying."

After explaining that KUSA had not taken up a position on the ballot initiative, they moved to explain why they're calling a spade a spade:

"We have a duty to tell you about it in simple, direct language. That's why we're not going to stop using the word "suicide."


"Supporters of the measure argue the word "suicide" is too friendly to the opposition because it may make you think of someone who ends their life for no good reason.

"In contrast, the proposed law does require a reason: you'd need to be diagnosed with a terminal illness to get a life-ending prescription.

"But in plain English, that's still "suicide."

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This article was first published on Hope.

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About the Author

Paul Russell is the Director of HOPE: preventing euthanasia & assisted suicide

Paul is also Vice Chair of the International Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

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