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Verbal Inflation and Impoverished Thought

René Magritte. The Discovery of Fire.
"Learning to play an instrument is so hard, it's Hell!"
(René Magritte. The Discovery of Fire. Source)

1) What is verbal inflation?

What is "verbal inflation"? (Some authors speak rather of "verbal manipulation", or of "dysphemisms and euphemisms", etc.) First, we have to remember a bit what real inflation is. Inflation arises, among others, when the Government prints too many banknotes. Printing money is easy! In theory, if you want a million dollars, you just press the button on the big printer, and bingo! you've just "created" a million dollars! Except you've also just reduced the value of each dollar already in circulation!

Germany in the 1920's had a period of serious inflation. There was even a joke, according to which a housewife had gone to the store with a bag filled with banknotes. She had momentarily set down her bag full of money to check the merchandise, but when she came back to pick it up, she had the surprise of seeing someone had stolen her bag, but left the banknotes there!

"Verbal inflation" is a bit like real inflation. It arises when we use words that are "more rich" to signify realities that are "more poor", and its consequence is to impoverish the language, and hence thought itself.

2) A few examples of verbal inflation

Here are a few examples drawn from the vocabulary of the typical quebecer:

2.1) "Hell"

Examples: "I had to wait three hours in the hospital's emergency ward, it was Hell!", or "I had to type up my term paper, but I had broken a fingernail, so it hurt while I was typing. It was Hell!", etc.

Correct meaning: Strictly speaking, going to Hell is suffering the worst torments for ever! It's being cut off from the source of all good (God), but also being separated from the people we love and being horribly tortured in one's body, all of this with no hope of ever getting out!

Recommendations: slight delay, minor annoyance, trifling pain, etc.

2.2) "evidence", or "proof"

Examples: In English, lawyers use the word "evidence" where their French colleagues say "proof". In both cases, it's verbal inflation.

Correct meaning: Strictly speaking, a "proof" is a syllogism which produces science, i.e. certain knowledge. For example, the proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. It's something irrefutable, and all those who examine it with a minimum of care will see it's true. In the same way, "evidence" is when we see truth immediately (with our eyes or with our reason). For example: put your Philosopher's Glove in front of you, and you'll have the evidence that your hand has five fingers. Other example: the accused stands in front of the jury, then slashes his wife's throat in front of them. The Crown attorney can now get up and say: "Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, you now have the evidence that the accused killed his wife".

Recommendations: Of course, lawyers aren't going to change their terminology, but we can at least keep in mind that they should prefer words like: clue, object found at the scene of the crime, testimonial apparently worthy of being believed, etc. In daily conversations, we can also replace the word "proof" with: argument in favor of, clue , etc.

2.3) "to create"

Examples: "The Government has created a new committee", or "We need to create solutions for this problem", etc.

Correct meaning: Only God can create, since creating is to "produce from nothingness", and it takes infinite power to produce something out of nothing.

Recommendations: Produce, manufacture, form, assemble, etc. For artists, you can write a poem, paint a canvas, etc.

2.4) "friend"

Examples: "He's my friend, we met yesterday for the first time", or "My friends and I were about 200, drinking beer and dancing", etc.

Correct meaning: Strictly speaking, friendship is unfortunately rare in this world. We are lucky to have even only one true friend. We can find many famous quotations on friendship, like Aristotle [Nicomachean Ethics, Book 8, Chap. 3-8, etc.], or Montaigne: "what we ordinarily call friends and friendship, are only acquaintances and familiarity caused by some occasion or commodity, whereby our souls have some relation. In the friendship I'm talking about, the souls intermingle and fuse with each other, in such a universal mixture that they dissolve, and we can no longer find the seam which joined them" [Essays, Book 1, Chap. 28].

Recommendations: in decreasing order of importance, you have buddy, coworker, acquaintance, etc.

Of course, the sky won't fall down if you jokingly say: "I adore chocolate!" (even though we should only adore God), or if an artist claims she has created a work of art, etc. In Politics, we deal with the Law of Large Numbers, not spurious occurrences. Also, of course some dictionaries will list some of these "inflated" uses as acceptable. Dictionaries mostly follow how people speak. It is not their task to notice large trends that can harm society. That job belongs to politicians.

3) What are the causes of verbal inflation?

I feel like saying that the main cause of verbal inflation is pride. I guess there's also a bit of laziness (people don't want to make the effort of finding the right word) and ignorance (people don't know what verbal inflation is, nor why we should avoid it). But I would say it's mostly out of pride.

Why talk about "Hell" when we have to suffer a little delay, if only because we have an exaggerated idea of our own importance? Why claim we've "created" something, if not to raise ourselves to the level of God? Why talk about all our "friends", if not to claim that "to know us is to love us"?

4) Verbal deflation: a more sinister type of verbal manipulation?

Living... only as a burden
"Living... only as a burden"
Nazi propaganda poster, part of the campaign to eliminate "useless eaters" (Source)

Words can be "inflated", but they can also be "deflated". In other words, we can use expressions that mean less, to signify higher natures. A famous and disgusting example of this "verbal deflation" is the expression "useless eaters", used by the Nazis to signify men they wanted to exterminate.

In a way, social manipulation is always preceded by verbal manipulation. If you want to exterminate physically or mentally handicapped persons, you first have to manipulate language in order to convince the masses. The repetition of the expression "useless eaters" encourages the masses to actually believe that these persons are not fully human.

These days, other verbal deflations are used to try to convince the masses that certain categories of men do not deserve to live. The most famous is "unwanted pregnancy", to talk about the baby still in its mother's womb. A whole series of verbal deflations revolve around this attempt at dehumanizing babies, like "VPI" ("Voluntary Pregnancy Interruption") instead of "abortion", or "pro-choice" instead of "pro-abortion", or "center for reproductive health" instead of "slaughterhouse for babies", etc.

Is verbal deflation worse than verbal inflation? Not necessarily. The fact an expression means less or more than the reality it's made to signify, is accidental. What makes a verbal manipulation essentially worse is not the actual "mechanical" details of the manipulation, but the purpose of this manipulation.

5) What are the consequences of verbal inflation and deflation?

In a way, the most important thing in this world is the happiness of men. But, to be happy, we have to possess not only the goods of the body (like health, clothing and housing, etc.), but also the goods of the soul (like Science, Art, the Grace of God, etc.). Many of the goods of the soul require a social effort to discover truth, an effort which cannot succeed without a "well-tuned language". But the English language (which is a common good) is harmed by verbal manipulation (whether inflation or deflation), and therefore such verbal manipulations make it harder to obtain the spiritual goods we so dearly need.

6) Conclusion

I had to suffer a trifling pain to write this text, in which I present some arguments against verbal inflation and deflation. It's worth the effort, because I'm working for the eternal salvation of men!

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