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But it’s not simply that language composes poetry and thinks for me, it also drives my feelings, it directs my entire spiritual being, the more self-evidently, the more unconsciously I give myself up to it. So what happens when the language of the educated is composed of poisonous elements, or bears poisons? Words may be little doses of arsenic: they are consumed without being noticed; they seem at first to have no effect, but after a while, indeed, the effect is there.
After a while when one uses the word “fanatical” for “heroic” or “virtuous,” he actually comes to believe that a fanatic is a virtuous hero; that without fanaticism one can not be heroic. The words “fanatical” and “fanaticism” were not created by the Third Reich, but it did transform the essential meaning of these words and it made more frequent use of them in a single day than in other times they would have been used in a course of years…
It is more than just the stuff of a schoolhouse pedant to expose the poison of the language of the Third Reich and to warn about it. When a believing Jew believes that a piece of tableware has been used in a ritually impure way, then he will bury it in the earth in order to purify it. In the same way the many words which were placed in common linguistic usage by the Nazis must be placed in a mass grave for a long time, and some of them forever.
–Victor Klemperer, Lingua tertii imperii ch. 1 (1947)(S.H. transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Hours for which New Orleans’s airport was partly evacuated in February over a package later found to contain gumbo:
Researchers suggested that Abraham Lincoln suffered from a genetic mutation that destroys nerve cells in the cerebellum rather than Marfan disease, which makes people grow tall and thin, with long tapering fingers.
Greece evacuated 72,000 people from the town of Thessaloniki while an undetonated World War II–era bomb was excavated from beneath a gas station.
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"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."