George Carlin, one of the great philosophers of our time, had an insightful piece on words. He discussed how, during World War I, troops who’d been in intense continuous combat, to the breaking point of their humanity, suffered from shell shock.
The words themselves were terrifying. Shell shock said it all.
Then, World War II showed up and we needed a better phrase. Thus came the term Battle Fatigue. Battle was ominous, Fatigue implied being tired perhaps worn out. Still frightening, but less so.
During the years 1950-1953 in Korea, we tried to redefine the whole thing by calling it a police action. 33,686 dead Americans later, we realized our failure.
Finally, with Vietnam, we arrived at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD. Sounds almost benign. As Carlin pointed out, maybe if we kept the term shell shock the soldiers who suffered from it would have received the help they needed.
Where once we “killed” our enemies, now we “terminate with extreme prejudice.”
The military is particularly adept at this. I suspect they must have an occupational specialty for language smoothing.
But changing words to make them sound less troubling masks the problem rather than mitigates it. Morphine will take away the pain of a broken arm, but it still won’t work right if left untreated.
Our attempt at using words to cushion these issues opens a whole Pandora’s box of nonsense. The term PTSD is commonplace now. People traumatized by a snarling rabid raccoon, seeing a squirrel turned into road pizza, or not making the honor roll wear the diagnosis like a crown of thorns.
What once was the exclusive purview of those in combat or emergency services has been expanded to encompass a bad day at work. Are there individuals who suffer from trauma experienced outside of combat or violent crime? Of course. But I suspect a significant number just don’t want to face the fact that life’s not fair and bad things happen.
It’s what you do about it that makes you rise above it and survive. Seeking a diagnosis de jour to ameliorate your hurt feelings isn’t helpful.
What got me thinking about this was the term, undocumented immigrants. Undocumented is so much nicer than illegal, even if there is no distinction. Like the advice about how to convince people of a lie. Tell it big enough and often enough it is soon considered fact.
Like claiming any negative news stories are fake.
Undocumented is an error in paperwork, illegality is a crime. Undocumented sounds so much better.
There are serious issues facing this country. Finding ways to make them sound less threatening is foolhardy. Ignoring them may be fatal. Finding rational, thoughtful solutions is the way.
Otherwise, let’s give everybody a trophy, put all the names on the honor roll, and ignore the reality of life.