Offensive Language?

12:00 pm - November 7th 2009

by Unity    

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Its been yet another one of those in weeks in which the use of ‘offensive’ language has been making headlines in both the press and with at least one prominent blogger.

The story that captured the media’s attention was, of course, Pierre Lellouche’s description of the Conservative Party’s attitude towards the European Union:

“They have one line and they just repeat one line. It is a very bizarre sense of autism,”

Curiously that comment failed to generate any real sense of outrage in the one place you might have expected it to – the Daily Mail seems to have been far too preoccupied with laying into Cameron for backing away from a referendum on Europe to indulge in the usual round of sneering at the ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ leaving the field open, for once, to someone with a genuine reason for taking offence, Charlotte Moore, to frame the debate in terms of whether its acceptable to use the term ‘autism’ as a casual insult.

Elsewhere, the Press Complaints Commission decided that its okay to refer Iain Dale as an ‘overtly gay Tory blogger’ in a ruling that leaves me wondering whether Iain’s mistake might have been to complain under clause 12 of the PCC’ Code (discrimination) rather than under clause 1 (accuracy). While Iain makes no secret of his sexual orientation I wouldn’t have said that he was ‘overtly gay’, not in the commonly understood sense of the term, which implies that someone is camping it up to the point that their sexual orientation is blatantly obvious. ‘Honestly’ is, strictly speaking, a synonym of ‘overtly’ but colloquially the two words carry very different connotations in the same way that acknowledging that homosexuality is part of the normal spectrum of human sexual behaviour is a very different thing to promoting homosexuality, despite some people having a marked propensity for conflating the two.

Iain also points the way to another interesting article on language, offence and disability, by Ian Birrell, in which the bone of contention is the use of ‘retard’ and ‘retarded’ as casual insults. That article is, again, written from the perspective of the parent of a child/children with a disability and carries all the more weight for it.

So, I’ve got some sympathy with Ian [Birrell],  not least as the colloquial use of retard as a noun is yet another idiotic Americanism we call well do without over here. Nevertheless, I found it difficult not to chuckle at the absurdity of this particular observation:

In America, the fightback has begun. The Special Olympics has launched a campaign to drive the word “retard” into disuse, asking people to pledge never to use the word.

Well intentioned as their campaign might be, I fear it may meet some resistance amongst physicists and engineers, where the word retard, as both a noun and a verb has a very different meaning:

–verb (used with object)

1. to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.); hinder or impede.

–verb (used without object)

2. to be delayed.


3. a slowing down, diminution, or hindrance, as in a machine.

This brings us back to a point I’ve made several times before, but which has never been better expressed by anyone than it was by the late, great, George Carlin:

There’s a different group to get pissed off at you in this country for everything your not supposed to say.

Can’t say Nigger, Boogie, Jig, Jigaboo, Skinhead, Moolimoolinyon, Schvatzit, Junglebunny. Greaser, Greaseball, Dago, Guinea, Whop, Ginzo, Kike, Zebe, Heed, Yid, Mocky, Himie, Mick, Donkey, Turkey, Limey, Frog. Zip, Zipperhead, Squarehead, Crout, Hiney, Jerry, Hun, Slope, Slopehead, Chink, Gook.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those words in and of themselves. They’re only words. It’s the context that counts. It’s the user. It’s the intention behind the words that makes them good or bad. The words are completely neutral. The words are innocent.

I get tired of people talking about bad words and bad language. Bullshit! It’s the context that makes them good or bad. The context. That makes them good or bad.

For instance, you take the word “Nigger”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the word “Nigger” in and of itself. It’s the racist asshole who’s using it that you ought to be concerned about.

We don’t mind when Richard Pryer or Eddie Murphy say it. Why? Because we know they’re not racist. They’re Niggers!

Context. Context. We don’t mind their context because we know they’re black.

Hey, I know I’m whitey, the blue-eyed devil, paddy-o, fay gray boy, honkey, mother-fucker myself. Don’t bother my ass. They’re only words. You can’t be afraid of words that speak the truth, even if it’s an unpleasant truth, like the fact that there’s a bigot and a racist in every living room on every street corner in this country.

You can’t make words disappear, which is why the idea of driving the word ‘retard’ into disuse is a complete and utter nonsense, one compounded in the article by the use of the one common euphemism that absolutely sets my teeth on edge:

Many of the pledges are from children such as Samantha, who has a sister with special needs. “All my life I have heard people saying the r-word. It makes me really upset. No one understands how hurtful it is until you have someone close to you being called that.”

No, no, no, no, NO!

Don’t get started with the whole ‘N-word’ crap, not even with kids.

You can’t make words disappear but you can educate people to use words in their proper context and to understand why context matters. That’s how you change attitudes and its attitudes that matter, not words.

That’s where the dogma of ‘political correctness’ too often gets it completely wrong. It tries to change attitudes by making rules, giving people banal lists of words that they supposedly can’t use in any circumstances because the words themselves are  ‘offensive’.  At best this is a complete nonsense – by far the worst training course I ever had the misfortune to [have to] attend was an ‘equality and diversity’ course in which the trainer’s sole approach was that of trying to set out rules for what can and can’t be said; for what is and isn’t ‘offensive’. One of the words I was told could never, ever be used in an circumstances was ‘Mongol’, at which point I’d become so pissed off with being patronised that I immediately fired back with:

“But what if I’m talking about Genghis Khan?


“You know, Genghis Khan..? The Mongol Hordes..? Coleridge..? In Xanadu did Kublai Khan a stately pleasuredome decree – those Mongols… Did you skip history in school?”

I’ll leave you to guess what kind of reaction that got…

Making simplistic rules about what can and can’t be said doesn’t change attitudes. Frequently, all it does is provide cover for people who’s attitudes aren’t going to change no matter how much you try to educate them. Sure, you can use these rule to force Nick Griffin into saying ‘Muslim’ rather than ‘Paki’, but you know damn well that ‘Paki’ is what he’s actually thinking when he starts railing inanely again ‘Muslims’ for the umpteenth time. It just doesn’t change attitudes at all, but it does explain why many people are so vocal in their complaints about political correctness – because sticking to those ‘rules’ doesn’t always work as well as the unreconstructed bigot might hope. Now matter how careful they are in sticking to the rules, the vast majority bigots are still easily identifiable because they still get the context of their comments hopelessly wrong.

Its when that happens, and their true face is revealed, that the real pissing and moaning kicks off in earnest, because even through they’ve tried the damnedest to play by the rules, they’ve still been rumbled for the assholes they really are.

Having said all that, what really interests me is not so much the language that people think is offensive – I don’t do taboos anyway – but the kind of language that passes entirely without comment but which does genuinely piss me off.

I’m talking her about euphemisms – what George Carlin called ‘soft’ language. The kind of language that some people use to conceal the truth but which many others buy into simply to hide themselves away from reality.

I’ve given one example of that kind of language already – ‘the N-word‘ – but there are many other such words and phrases that I absolutely loathe, especially those coined by politicians and the military.

Take ‘collateral damage‘, for example, the universally accepted euphemism for ‘Oh shit, we just blew the fuck out of a children’s hospital’.

Then there’s ‘friendly fire‘ – now I don’t know about you but personally I don’t give a fuck whether someone’s supposed to be on my side, there’s still nothing friendly about getting shot at.

And, of course, there’s ‘extraordinary rendition‘ and ‘waterboarding‘- or ‘illegally kidnapping people for torture‘ and ‘torture‘, if we’re going to cut the crap here.

On Thursday nights’ BBC’s Politics Show, Michael Portillo managed to add another military euphemism to what has long been an expanding list of pet hates, when he described a number of servicemen who’d been injured in the line of duty while serving in Afghanistan as having returned home with ‘life-changing injuries‘.

What the fuck is that all about?

Life-changing injuries…?

Are we really suggesting that getting your legs blown off by a fucking improvised roadside bomb is just another of those wonderful life-changing experiences that people around us experience all the time, like winning a decent sum of money on the lottery, getting married or becoming a parent..?

Or will we say just about anything rather than admit the harsh truth, to ourselves, that these are servicemen who’ve returned from a combat zone with a major disability or disfigurement; that some of them will have lost limbs or suffered other injuries that will mean them spending months, maybe years in rehab and that some may well spend the rest of their lives using a wheelchair or relying on prosthetic limbs.

Now I know perfectly well that some will argue that there’s a sense in which that shouldn’t really matter. That even with their disabilities, these servicemen will still be able to lead to a full and rewarding life. Jimmy Carr even suggested that it’ll mean that we’ll end up with a hell of team at the 2o12 Paralympics and pissed a few people off in the process – because ‘you can’t make jokes about disability’…

…largely, I suspect, the ones who didn’t stop to think that maybe a two and half year recovery period is going to damn be good going for some of these servicemen, even the ones who might be inclined to take up disability sports.

Others will say that we shouldn’t even use words like ‘disabled’ let alone a word like ‘crippled’, which is how many of the soldiers would have been described only a couple of generations ago, even on medical reports. These are words that ‘project a stereotype’, they encourage people to ‘look at the disability not at the person’, these people are not disabled, they’re ‘disAbled’.

Are they really?

Look, I don’t want to seem as if I’m taking at knock at people within the disability community who prefer to think of themselves is terms of being ‘disAbled’ or whatever other phrases they might use to put a positive spin on life. Positive-thinking is a great thing to have and if using language like that helps to keep a positive frame of mind then who am I to argue? Language can and does have a therapeutic effect if its used properly.

But that doesn’t mean that us non-disabled folk are justified in buying into that kind of language just because it makes us feel better about ourselves – that’s not the purpose of that language, even if that’s often how its used. To conceal the truth. To insulate us the from harsh realities that, for others, dominate their everyday life. To make us feel virtuous when we’ve done nothing worth feeling virtuous about. It may be the same language we’re using but the context is utterly different. A disabled person who calls themselves ‘disAbled’ is expressing a truth about themselves – they have abilities and those abilities are more important to them and their sense of who they are than any limitations they may have. When people without a disability start talking about the ‘disAbled’ they’re almost always hiding from the truth, co-opting the positive language and turning it into a negative – if these people a re disAbled rather than disabled then they get along on fine without any consideration from me.

As long as we use their language then it doesn’t matter that they were injured in a war we supported – hey, that’s just a lifechanging experience – just like it doesn’t matter that we voted for the party that cut the budget for home adaptations and withdrew funding the funding from the local rape crisis centre just to shave a couple of quid off our council tax bills, just before an election.

It doesn’t even matter that we can’t be bothered to look a wheelchair user in the eye when we talk to them, or speak directly to a deaf person to give them a fighting chance of being able lip-read what we have to say

As long as we play by the rules, and stick only to the ‘good’ language, their language, then we’ve done our bit and they can ask no more of us than that…

Bull… shit!

But sadly, its bullshit you can believe in, because the euphemisms and soft language we use, that we’re often told to use, does its job and does it so very well…

I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms, or euphemistic language.

And American English is loaded with euphemisms. Cause Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent the kind of a soft language to protest themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation. For some reason, it just keeps getting worse. I’ll give you an example of that.

There’s a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It’s when a fighting person’s nervous system has been stressed to it’s absolute peak and maximum. Can’t take any more input. The nervous system has either (click) snapped or is about to snap. In the first world war, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago.

Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! Battle fatigue.

Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison Avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, were up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It’s totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car.

Then of course, came the war in Vietnam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder.

I’ll bet you if we’d of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Vietnam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I’ll betcha. I’ll betcha.

That’s from the same George Carlin routine as the rant on language and racism I quoted earlier, and really gets to the nub of why I hate the use of euphemisms of this kind, which I suspect puts me in a distinct minority because you can bet your life that no one will have complained to the Beeb about Portillo referring to ‘life-changing injuries‘.

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About the author
'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Reader comments

Brilliant post, Unity.

I got the impression that Carlin really enjoyed writing all the words he was not supposed to use any more.

Language fascists are emotional retards and intellectual cripples- be under no illusion but that the ultimate purpose of censoring language is to control thought.

I’ve said it many times before, and agree wholeheartedly with your post.

Excelent post. As someone who suffers mental illness it pisses me off hearing people ‘defending’ me from my own language. It’s bad enough that you have to put up with idiots (a word I’ll come back to) who think mental illness renders you utterly incapable of anything, you also get those who think mental illness has no effect and you just have to take a few magic pills and you are okay. No, it’s not like having a broken leg, it strikes you to the core of who you are. Nobody ‘has’ a mental illness in the sense you can abstract it from who they are and be left with their ‘real’ self.

Back to ‘retard’: this has a specific, if archaic, definition but then so do ‘idiot’, ‘cretin’, etc. If you ban all language based on measures of intelligence (as with mental illness) then you effectively restrict yourself to synonyms of ‘wrong’ when you argue with someone, putting yourself at a rhetorical disadvantage.

Euphemisms are the worst. ‘Collateral damage’, ‘rendition’, etc. Orwell wrote the definitive essay on the subject and I’ll assume no-one has never had the time to read it. It’s short, so no excuses.

God, I hate ‘special’ though. That’s really the worst word to use, such a fucking patronising word for someone with ‘special needs’. I almost puked when I heard the mother in ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’ say to her child ‘Remember when I said our 1940’s eye-rolling black stereotype of a gardner is ‘special’?’ (or words to that effect).

Dysphemisms are often overlooked, I think. When a newspaper magnate or banker is described as a Jew the speaker is often not merely commenting on their religion (which is usually irrelevant) but reducing that person to a type; likewise if you are describing someone as a prick or ‘the appendix in bed four’ you are reducing them t’i a body part through synechdoche. In both cases you are denying someone their humanity.

‘Language fascists are emotional retards and intellectual cripples- be under no illusion but that the ultimate purpose of censoring language is to control thought.’

Anyone would have to be blind not to see that.

And if they disagree they don’t have a leg to stand on.

Incidentally, though Orwell’s Newspeak is meant to make certain thoughts literally unthinkable he does include the get-out clause ‘at least so far as thought is dependant on words’. For all the linguistic deremination of Foucault or Wittgenstein, most actual thought is extra-linguistic. The wag who changed some local graffiti from ‘All queers must die!’ to ‘All gays must die!’ understood that at some basic level.

5. the a&e charge nurse

Bulls-eye – what a belter of a post.

I studied in the USSR for a year in the 1970’s. The most dreadful thing one could be accused of was ‘anti-soviet ideas’ – our equivalent nowadays is a pantheon of related thought crimes – racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia and so on. Self-censorship was universal, as the slightest suspicion of anti-soviet thinking could seriously affect one’s career and life in general. There were criticism and jokes about the system in abundance, but you developed the habit of looking over your shoulder, and carefully checking out those present before you spoke freely.
After I’d been in the USSR for a week or two, my room-mates, hinted that certain people should be avoided if possible, that you should be very careful of certain others: ‘Don’t tell this joke if Volodya P. is in the room’; ‘It is alright to talk about this amongst ourselves, but don’t have such a conversation with Sergey G’. These were the komsomoltsy, young party members, or strongly pro-system individuals who could ruin your career just by dropping a hint to the authorities that you had told a joke about the politburo or made fun of some feature of the system. At any moment, if you said anything in the slightest bit divergent from the official line, they could terrify people by a slight accusation of anti-sovietism. When they hove in sight or entered a room, the atmosphere lost some warmth, everybody watched their p’s and q’s, and when they left, there was a sense of relief. Had the end of the USSR been less peaceful, these are the people who would have been hung from lamp-posts.
Their equivalent in our society is the lefty, the real committed lefty.
I’ve never been reprimanded by a conservative for using inappropriate language. When I was told off for using patronising language by calling Jean the domestic on our ward “darling” (she called me the same), it wasn’t a conservative who did so. It was a finger-wagging control freak lefty. They’re the ones who accuse ordinary people of “racism”, or whatever, at the drop of a hat. They it is, who run the various mandatory “cultural awareness” and “diversity” sessions I’ve had to attend, where I (and my like-minded compatriots) have had to listen to all manner of pernicious nonsense without batting an eyelid, let alone contesting the assertions made, because to do so would mark us out as troublemakers, and probably, God forbid, “racists”. It wasn’t worth risking your career, your friendships, your pension. The left over the past 25 years have been far and away the best recruiters for the far right. I haven’t yet seen a place where lefties have even begun to grasp why there has been a gradual and inexorable move rightwards by the general population (I nearly said “the masses”.
They seem to think it’s lack of social housing, the credit crunch or some such phenomenon alone. The fact that millions of ordinary people feel afraid to open their mouths because someone’s going to shout “racist” or suchlike hasn’t occurred to them. Never would I have imagined 25 years ago, that I would hear so many ordinary people saying “You’re not supposed to say that any more, are you? Can you still say that? Isn’t that racist or summat?” Could it be that the left is at last gaining a glimmer of insight into the stupendous contribution they have made to the rightward swing of the pendulum? I’ll believe it when I see it.

I find myself agreeing in part with this post – certainly about the way purely complaining about the way people use words doesn’t tend to change attitudes in the long run; it’s the underlying prejudice we need to tackle.

Nonetheless, use of a lot of these words does often indicate prejudice, and especially on the internet – where all we have is words – it’s often useful to pick up on them to point out prejudice. In particular it seems wrong to use the word “autistic” as an insult, given that it’s widely used in a purely descriptive way.

I’m not particularly convinced by Shatterface’s point about not being able to use “retard” putting him at a rhetorical disadvantage. There are enough words to go round, especially if your argument is strong enough.

Would I be right in thinking that, strictly speaking, re’tard (noun) and retard’ (verb) are two different though related lexemes, the former being accented on the first syllable and the latter on the last syllable? Yes, I’m a pedant, but you have to be prepared to use words accurately.

“it’s often useful to pick up on them to point out prejudice. In particular it seems wrong to use the word “autistic” as an insult, given that it’s widely used in a purely descriptive way.”

But we have to use our common sense. Yes, using Autistic at the end of a descriptor of someone is clearly intended to use the word as an insult, but no-one is claiming that people should be able to get away with that. Saying someone actually has signs of autism, even as an “insult” may show that person’s prejudices but also is perfectly acceptable as a truthful statement.

We do only have words on the internet, which is why I believe we ultimately end up fighting more with each other. I think we’re all as guilty as each other, but ultimately we should stop “taking people at their word” online and start asking them about their meaning. I think we’d all be surprised how often we’re putting meanings in to other people’s words without warrant.

10. David O'Keefe

“Yes, using Spaz at the end of a descriptor of someone is clearly intended to use the word as an insult, but no-one is claiming that people should be able to get away with that. Saying someone actually has signs of cerebal palsy, even as an “insult” may show that person’s prejudices but also is perfectly acceptable as a truthful statement.”

10. Did you have a point other than to take my quote out of context (where the same word is used in two subtly different ways)?

12. David O'Keefe

What is your point? That calling someon autistic is unacceptable, but suggesting it is acceptable? Have I got that right?

That using a term obviously as an insult is unacceptable, but describing something factually, albeit within an insulting context or framework, is not an unacceptable use of the term. In both cases the person is trying to be insulting, but only in one has the word actually been used incorrectly.

Call me a nigger to my face, white boy.

15. David O'Keefe

So, Lee, you can use autism as a term of abuse providing you are using it factually.
Do you know anyone who uses the term autistic to describe anyone? I don’t and I would assume that is the same for a lot of people.

I think your on a wind-up and I don’t have the time for this rubbish.

16. The Grim Reaper

Didn’t George Osborne refer to Gordon Brown as “autistic” a few years ago and get a similar bashing to this one? The French minister had a valid point to make, though (1) he phrased it very badly and; (2) his criticism was very selective. Where was his “one line only” criticism when Broon was telling us he had “saved the world”, that he was “getting on with the job of helping hard-working families through the problems which began in America” and all that crap?

Where do you draw the line with this kind of criticism, however? On the mental health side, Guido Fawkes regularly refers to McBroon as “the Prime Mentalist”. Is that offensive to people who have had mental health problems? I’ve had some in the past and I don’t take any offence from it whatsoever. It’s just Guido keeping in with his tabloid-esque style of blogging.

Unity, do ou have a link to that Carlin routine. The bit about context is a keeper.

I participated in a debate at the Cambridge Union a couple of weeks ago, defending political correctness against Ann Widdecombe. I made the point about the importance of history and context, but also argued that respect for the name people choose for themselves is important too.

15. See 16. and the fact I was replying to 7.

And yes, if you’re using a word in its correct context, even if as part of an insult, then no-one should be stopping you from using it, nor is it “wrong” in the context of the discussion started by Unity to do so.

It is, in that circumstance, the fact the speaker wished to use it as an insult that is the problem (and is a direct reflection on their own prejudices), not the use of the word in itself. No-one who’s autistic, or cares for autistic people (or knows them, or whatever) should be throwing toys out of their pram for someone using the term correctly, more that the individual seems to think that being autistic in manner is something worthy of being insulted for. It is the individual that is the problem, not the word.

Short but excellent article from Shazia Mirza on the pressure to take ‘offence’ even if you don’t feel it:

You don’t think, perhaps, that the reason “people think [this language] is offensive”, is because groups of people have said that the find the use of particular words (or particular words in particular contexts) offensive to them personally?

I think you’re conflating two different sorts of offensive language, that don’t really have a lot in common other than being offensive – in fact, they’re almost opposites.

There’s the use of aspects of a person (gender, race, sexuality, appearance, disability or illness, etc.) as insults, which comes from and reinforces a range of negative stereotypes, and which a fair number (not all, but certainly enough) of the people with those particular aspects find insulting, offensive or threatening. I don’t yet see any defence of those that doesn’t ultimately come down to one of “I don’t personally find it insulting (so you shouldn’t)”, “My [black/female/gay/etc] friend doesn’t have a problem with it (so you shouldn’t)”, or “I don’t think [racism/ableism/etc] is a problem”.

Carlin’s “it’s all about intent” defence, to which you subscribe, is rather clearly wrong. It is rare the intent of a person causing harm to be considered significant when accounting for whether harm was caused (though it is often considered significant in determining what the appropriate compensation is).

For examples: causing death by dangerous driving and murder are different offences, but they’re both still offences, and “I didn’t intend to kill anyone, and you have to look at the context in which I was driving, and look at all these people I didn’t kill who weren’t harmed by it at all” has never been a successful defence. At the other end of the scale, if I’m helping you with DIY and hit your thumb with the hammer, I apologise for doing so _because_ I had no intent to do so but your thumb’s still going to have a nasty bruise either way, and I don’t have any right to complain about your shouted grievances about my hammer-swinging skills, my commitment to the project, and my care for your personal safety.

“That’s where the dogma of ‘political correctness’ too often gets it completely wrong. It tries to change attitudes by making rules, giving people banal lists of words that they supposedly can’t use in any circumstances because the words themselves are ‘offensive’.”

This is entirely backwards, of course: it may well often be badly taught – I’ve sat through useless diversity courses myself – but the point is that if you want to be “not racist” then part of that is “not sounding like you’re racist”. It’s not that if you don’t use these words you’ll magically stop being racist – it’s that if you don’t stop using these words you’ll be indistinguishable in certain contexts from someone who is being intentionally racist. (Using Mongol to refer to the historic group is not, of course, one of those contexts, but using an example of a bad training course doesn’t invalidate the larger point, any more than me finding a bad example from a health and safety course can condone smoking around the oxygen cylinders)

Essentially, this sort of language is the use of insults to attach negative connotations to things which shouldn’t have them, or to use an existing unwanted negative connotation as an insult.

Then there’s the use of euphemisms to remove negative connotations from things that really deserve them, such as “collateral damage”, or to use unwanted positive connotations (e.g. “friendly fire”) to obscure. That is also offensive, and deserves far more complaint than it currently gets, but is essentially the opposite of the first type. If you wanted to complain about that, that half of the argument would stand well on its own.

(On the shell shock -> PTSD example, one advantage of PTSD that isn’t shared by the other euphemisms in that progression is that it makes clear that this can be caused by stress other than combat, which may actually be helping treatment and recognition of civilian and peacetime people with PTSD, who probably make up the majority of the UK and US cases.)

The alleged ‘harm’ sustained by someone who has been ‘offended’ is entirely subjective.

If you want a carcrash analogy it’s less like physical injury and more like wearing a neck-brace for a couple of weeks while your ambulance-chasing lawyer sues for ‘suspected’ whiplash.

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