Essay:Euphemism and dysphemism

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Euphemism and dysphemism are the eschewing of neutral words in favor of words with positive or negative connotations. This is commonly done for propaganda purposes. For example, a government will call its invasions and bombings a "police action", while the efforts of the conquered people to free themselves against long odds are called "terrorism" and "cowardice." Showing backbone in resisting the state is described not as "principled" but as "stubborn," "uncooperative," "haughty," "quixotic," etc. while those police officers and soldiers who operate with the backing of the strongest superpower in the world, and are handsomely recompensed for any losses suffered in the line of duty, are deemed "courageous" and honored for their "sacrifices". A person who complies with the state's every demand is described not as "submissive" or "obedient" but as "cooperative."[1] He is not viewed as having "caved in" under pressure, but as having been "reasonable."

People advise those who fight the government to "choose your battles" more carefully rather than investing resources in an idealistic struggle; then those same people proceed to live their lives not choosing any battles at all, but always going with the flow, standing for no principles whatsoever besides looking out for themselves and, possibly, their immediate families, without regard for the fact that, as Ludwig von Mises points out, "no one can find a safe way out for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction."[2] This way of thinking and living is not new. Henry David Thoreau writes about abolitionist Captain John Brown, who was hanged for raiding the arsenal at Harper's Ferry:[3]

It turns what sweetness I have to gall, to hear, or hear of, the remarks of some of my neighbors. When we heard at first that he was dead, one of my townsmen observed that "he died as the fool dieth"; which, pardon me, for an instant suggested a likeness in him dying to my neighbor living. Others, craven-hearted, said disparagingly, that "he threw his life away," because he resisted the government. Which way have they thrown their lives, pray?--such as would praise a man for attacking singly an ordinary band of thieves or murderers. I hear another ask, Yankee-like, "What will he gain by it?" as if he expected to fill his pockets by this enterprise. Such a one has no idea of gain but in this worldly sense. If it does not lead to a "surprise" party, if he does not get a new pair of boots, or a vote of thanks, it must be a failure. "But he won't gain anything by it." Well, no, I don't suppose he could get four-and-sixpence a day for being hung, take the year round; but then he stands a chance to save a considerable part of his soul,--and such a soul!--when you do not. No doubt you can get more in your market for a quart of milk than for a quart of blood, but that is not the market that heroes carry their blood to.


  1. Pete Eyre writes, "When a gesture of respect is made mandatory, it becomes an act of submission."
  2. Mises, Ludwig von. "Socialism in History". Socialism. 
  3. Thoreau, Henry David. "A Plea for Captain John Brown".