BIAS: Euphemisms

How are people manipulated through language? Have you ever noticed how politicians can make something sound nicer that it really is? They do this by using euphemism. We don’t tell people that a family member ‘died’. We say they ‘passed away’. Soldiers do not accidentally kill fellow soldiers. Instead we refer to ‘friendly fire’. The world is full of euphemisms like these.

What is the harm in using euphemisms? In this lesson we will explore the role of euphemisms and war, reading an extract from an essay and viewing an interview with a NATO strategist. Euphemisms relate well to the second learning outcome for Part 2, where we become more aware of the potential for political influence of the media.

War of words
The following essay title ‘Words and Behaviour’ by Adolus Huxley describes the effects of using euphemisms during war time. Read the following extract and answer the questions below.

What is Huxley’s main concern?

Why should we care about the language used to describe war?

EXTRACT HERE Words and Behaviour
Aldous Huxley


Find the euphemisms
Listen to the following interview with Jamie Shea, NATO spokesman on the Kosovo War in 1999. Notice how he uses the euphemisms listed below. What do these words really refer to? There are more euphemisms than given in this list. Make a longer list as you listen to the interview and answer the discussion questions below.


Historical overview about the conflict: Kosovo lies in southern Serbia and has a mixed population of which the majority are ethnic Albanians. Until 1989, the region enjoyed a high degree of autonomy within the former Yugoslavia, when Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic altered the status of the region, removing its autonomy and bringing it under the direct control of Belgrade, the Serbian capital. The Kosovar Albanians strenuously opposed the move.


WORD USED                                                               WORD OR MEANING INTENDED
A. through thick and thin
B. throw in the towel
C. in the wake of
D. no-brainer
E collateral damage





COMPREHENSION: Check for understanding
1. After viewing the interview answer the following questions to check for understanding.
2. Why did Jamie Shea believe that the NATO operation in Kosovo would have been a success?
3. Why was the Kosovo war particularly significant for NATO?
4. Why did NATO believe the public would support the war?
5. How does Shea view the media’s role in wartime?
6. What effect does following international law have on the effectiveness of airstrikes?
7. Were there any other euphemisms you could find?



WRITTEN TASK – Write a letter from Aldous Huxley to Jamie Shea persuading him to leave his job for ethical reasons. Provide Jamie Shea’s response as if he were writing during the war, or ten years later. Write between 200 and 250 words. If you finish this activity, you earn 2 points for your next evaluation.



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