Friday, November 21, 2008

What am I trying not to say? (5)

Euphemistical, politically correct words and phrases interfere with our ability to write clearly. Often they interfere with our ability to describe real-world dangers.

For example, in a recent post I described a euphemism that disguised the likelihood that automotive airbags will kill children. This time I describe a euphemism that disguised the likelihood that a dangerous criminal would escape.

In February 2008, Terrence O’Keefe (pictured), an imprisoned serial rapist, escaped from custody. He had been serving a life sentence in a locked psychiatric ward in King’s College Hospital in South London (UK). He had already escaped once, in 2005, from the same hospital.

Although he obviously posed a high escape risk, a doctor or nurse described him as a “medium secure patient.” This euphemism apparently was an attempt to show “sensitivity” to the serial rapist, notwithstanding his insensitivity to all the women he had raped.

When the rapist was being transferred to another hospital for treatment, the King’s College Hospital security people saw the word “medium” and assigned only two guards to escort him. The guards omitted the precaution of handcuffing him. Then he escaped.

That is certainly outrageous enough. But the hospital management committee that investigated the escape aggravated the outrage. It set a bad example for the employees by adding more euphemisms. For example:

“Recent events have suggested that certain language such as ‘medium secure patient’ is not transferable in the understanding of the level of risk posed…. Consideration therefore is required as to how we portray or use common language whilst remaining sensitive to the patient’s treatment needs.”

If the committee had really intended to prevent future escapes, it would have used plain, honest language here. For example:

Inside our cozy little world, it is understandable that we like to use politically correct language to bolster patients’ self-esteem. However, we must not use this kind of language in the real world outside. It fails to warn guards and police when a patient is likely to beat them up, escape, and revert to his career of raping or murdering people.

The Takeaway: We hear and read politically correct euphemisms every day. Sometimes we begin to use them without consciously intending to. But keep in mind that these euphemisms are valid only inside the infantile fantasy world of political correctness. Remember to avoid using them when writing anything that can have consequences in the real world.

Further Analysis: December 4, 2008

1 comment:

  1. Hear! Hear! I have removed the term "political correctness" from my vocabulary. I reject that a matter of opinion can be labelled "correct" or "incorrect." Nonsense.

    Keep up the good work.