A woman kills her 4 years old daughter. She cuts her body in pieces, packs them in plastic bags and puts them in the freezer. To the police, puzzled over her changing versions of the disappearance, she eventually admits her crime. The day after, a lawyer declares to the press that she comitted an “altruistic murder”, because she wanted to protect her child from sufferings that his violent father would probably inflict on her(*).
“Altruistic murder”: these are the words we heard. The expression is not a new one. It was probably created by a French psychiatrist, Clérambault (1872-1934), whose life and writings give the image of a rather unbalanced mind. But the fact that we use such words today is part of the process of language perversion that George Orwell had announced in a prophetical way.
No “Minisrty of Truth” (as Orwell’s 1984 called the ministry of propaganda) needed: the minds are shaped by an ideology of consensus carried by political or journalistic language. We are not surprised, nowadays, to hear of trade unions “action” when all railway trafic is stopped. It seems to us that “unsighted” or “less valid” are more charitable than “blind” or “disabled”. We are proud to replace the word abortion by the elegant expression “voluntary interruption of pregnancy”, while we forget that an interrupted process is supposed to resume normally at the end of the interruption... And, as a lastditch lucky find, medical ethics (??) specialists recommended «post-natal abortion»!
To give my readers the pleasure of awarding me a “Godwin point”, I have to mention another famous expression: the devilish “Final solution”, which indeed sounds much better than “massacre of Jews”...
Returning to the “altruist murder”, I suggest the honorable lawyer to improve the expression. “Murder” sounds really rude to our ears. Nevertheless, Newspeak offers a lot of resources. He could say, for instance: “altruistic cancellation, or withdrawal”. After all, we are people of the 21st century, we are civilised people!
Albert Camus said: “To name badly things adds to the world’s misfortune”, and many centuries before him, Plato: “An unfit language is not only defective in itself, but also it still hurts souls” (Phaedo, LXIV).
(*) See the belgian newspapers of 24 may 2012.