Masking shameful realities with words


“You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do”  (Mark 7:9-13).

PHILADELPHIA—Clever people down through history concoct words to mask shameful realities. Creative verbal expressions reinforced by constant repetition take on an authoritative force that make us forget what is really going on. If we had lived in first century Jerusalem, growing up with the word “Corban” bandied about in our homes and reverently spoken of in the synagogues, no doubt most of us would have taken “Corban” in stride. Nor would we have been (unless we were very astute Torah readers) likely to question the son who neglected his Mosaic duty and redirected his financial resources into “Corban.”

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Let me start us off with a list of expressions intentionally created to throw us off the scent—words that promise something very different from what they deliver—and I’m sure you can add a few of your own: “adult entertainment,” “collateral damage,” “affirmative action,” “welfare,” “Planned Parenthood,” “the final solution,” “ethnic cleansing.”

The trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell had its own lexicology geared to make us think about things in a certain way. The judge and prosecution solemnly coached the jury to think of “murder” as a very different thing than “abortion.” (True, this is to ensure adherence to technical legal definitions, but that is precisely my point and merely pushes the problem back a step.) An abortionist on the witness stand spoke of “terminating pregnancy.” (No one pictures forceps and suction with a phrase like that.) Another abortionist, cornered by the defense into describing her yanking and slicing babies in the womb, preferred to refer to the practice as the more nondescript “D&E” (“dilation and evacuation”).

But my favorite phrase to hate was “comfort care,” that cynical semantic dissimulation that abortionists in mahogany-paneled committee rooms came up with for a practice that is the opposite of comforting—the covering of a struggling baby with a cloth “until it passes.” That is to say, the withholding of medical attention.

As we learn from Mark 7, Jesus was angry at people who use words as a cover for evil; angry at the institutionalized vocabulary that blinds the eyes. Let us be on the lookout for it in our own lives and in the marketplace of ideas.

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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