Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The death of words

In an article in today's Wall St. Journal, Global View - Homeland Security Newspeak Bret Stephens talks about recommendations on "Terminology to Define Terrorists," a nine-page, "Official Use Only" memo issued in January by Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

He compares the Homeland Security terminology to George Orwell's 1984, in which
George Orwell famously created Newspeak, "the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year." How things haven't changed. The Homeland Security memo begins by declaring that "Words matter," whereupon it proceeds to suggest that some words matter so much it's best not to use them at all. Instead, the memo proposes a "strategic terminology" to dictate the utterances of public officials regarding the so-called Global Struggle.
The article called to mind a poem my brother wrote some 40 years ago:
A Eulogy for Words
by Rabbi Nota Schiller

We have come here today to bury these words
Our words once
Everyone's, no one's
There has been a war
They have served
Nouns, verbs and adjectives,
The adjectives they went first -
Here lies Peaceful
Over there Courageous with
Patriotic right alongside
And here, the maimed and bloodied bodies
Of a family
The Lovings -
Freedom-Loving, Truth-Loving, and
Peace Loving
Concepts lie crippled and homeless
Feeling crushed and paralyzed
In this mangling of language
Meaning dripped and spilled all over
Young ideas and old truths
Exploded together
Under heaps of shrapnel
Torn and ripped syllables
We found Sanity and Truth
Arm in arm,
Seems one tried to save the other -
Which we'll never know
Are there words that still live on this earth?
Are there plasmas of meaning under, above
Or on this ground?
Dear wordless peoples of the world
Widows of simile, orphans of metaphor
Choked by hyperbole,
How our hearts hurt for the handsome
Young wounded words
Dying and dead
In silence Lord
Dear Lord of Sound and Sense
With thickening dumbness Lord
We are bereaved.

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