The Cleansing of Language

Policy analysts at the CDC in Atlanta have apparently been given a list of words not to use in budget documents on the grounds that they are too controversial.    The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.” I know, I know. This is the continuation of the kind of linguistic or is it cognitive cleansing behind the banning of the phrase "climate change"  at the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well.  

I find the inclusion of "vulnerable" on this list particularly poignant.  Vulnerable is a word with meaning beyond the budgetary context (not unlike many of the other terms on the list)  usually understood to mean something like easily hurt or open to attack, harm, or damage. We must be living in a post-vulnerability society to have no need of programs that explicitly target the vulnerable among us. And, if we use this term, I suppose  there is also the risk attendant on us acknowledging our own vulnerabilities, a necessary step, it seems to me, in learning about empathy.   The interesting thing about banning the use of the word vulnerable in the budgetary context might be its implicit acknowledgement that few choose vulnerability.  It is an uncomfortable word. It might make us want to change things. 

Are some words in broad standard  usage so politically freighted in the political or budgetary context that new words for the same phenomenon need to be invented?  Or is the very existence of the phenomenon itself what offends? It appears to be some of both.  Some terms or phrases were offered as substitutes, the alternative offered for evidence-based: Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes."  So, science can only be mentioned in the same breath as community standards as scientific analysis alone must be profoundly alienated from our communal lives.







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