The Missing Word
January 23, 2003

by Joe Sobran

     In his famous essay "Politics and the English 
Language," George Orwell observed, "In our time, 
political speech and writing are largely the defense of 
the indefensible."

     Orwell added that "political language has to consist 
largely of euphemism, question-begging, and sheer cloudy 
vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the 
air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the 
cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with 
incendiary bullets: this is called 'pacification.' 
Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent 
trudging along the roads with no more than they can 
carry: this is called 'transfer of population' or 
'rectification of frontiers.' People are imprisoned for 
years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or 
sent to die in Arctic lumber camps: this is called 
'elimination of unreliable elements.' Such phraseology 
is needed if one wants to name things without calling up 
mental pictures of them....

     "The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A 
mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, 
blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. 
The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When 
there is a gap between one's real and one's declared 
aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words 
and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out 

     I think of this passage often when I hear liberals 
and feminists defending abortion. They instinctively 
avoid plain words like "kill." Tearing an unborn child 
to pieces or scalding it to death with chemicals is 
called "terminating a pregnancy" or "exercising 
reproductive choice."

     The "pro-choice" faction (they can't even bear to be 
called "pro-abortion") not only avoid summoning mental 
pictures; they really hate actual photos of the bloody, 
mangled corpse that is all that remains of an aborted 
child. They consider it a foul tactic for their opponents 
to show what abortion looks like. Only evasive euphemisms 
are permitted.

     They also consider it terribly coarse to call 
abortion "baby-killing." Here too they prefer a Latin 
word: it's not a child, it's a mere "fetus." As if a 
clinical term somehow changes the nature of the act. As 
for "killing," that too is excessively direct for their 
taste. We speak of killing crabgrass and cockroaches 
without compunction, because they are low and disposable 
forms of life; but there is no denying that they live. 
But a human child, growing, developing, even kicking? 
Apparently we're to believe it's not alive, so destroying 
it isn't killing.

     The great pagan philosopher Aristotle was more 
honest. He said plainly that deformed infants should be 
killed, for the general good of the community. And 
infanticide was a general practice among the ancient 
Greeks and Romans before the Christian era. They did it 
with a good conscience, and they didn't try to pretend 
they weren't killing their children by giving the act a 
fancy name.

     Their candor, at least, is refreshing, compared with 
the lies of the "pro-choice" faction, who use every 
circumlocution they can think of to distract us from what 
they are really talking about. "Reproductive freedom," 
"abortion providers," "a woman's right to control her own 
body" -- when a pregnant woman feels that baby kicking, 
does she think it's her own body kicking her? Of course 
not. She says, "The baby is kicking!" It already has its 
own body, its own will. She can't control it.

     In recent days I've read three "pro-choice" 
articles. None of the authors could bring himself (or 
herself) to use the word "kill." One of them, as it 
happens, was the British writer Christopher Hitchens, 
whose most recent book, ironically enough, is a 
celebration of George Orwell.

     But the original Orwell is there to insist that 
systematically evasive language is a sign of bad faith 
and bad conscience. If abortion is a "right," it's an 
oddly sneaking and shameful sort of right. Our Bill of 
Rights is a set of proud claims by free men. They didn't 
need to avoid naming the freedoms they wanted.

     The alleged right to abortion, by contrast, had to 
be tortured out of the Constitution by dubious reasoning 
and expressed in legalistic gobbledygook. The Supreme 
Court's fateful decision, written in cuttlefish ink by 
Justice Harry Blackmun, avoided any mention of killing, 
blood, or children. It would have drawn a grim smile from 


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