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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:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:
A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.
Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”
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“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”