Orwell Is Alive at HHS

On politics and euphemism

A political tempest arose last week when the Washington Post reported that the Department of Health and Human Services had banned the use of certain words or phrases—“vulnerable,” “science-based,” and “entitlements,” among others—in official budget documents. National Affairs editor Yuval Levin debunked the story, though, finding instead that bureaucrats concerned about offending Republican budget overseers had, in fact, decided to censor themselves. If so, that suggests that the bureaucrats have been reading their George Orwell, who observed in his classic essay Politics and the English Language that language is “an instrument which we shape for our own purposes”; they are sharp enough to realize that even neutral terms can constitute mini-arguments. Each of the terms in question—and a great many more—have been weaponized for use in political conflict.