Keeping a beady eye on the logosphere!

Latinate: The Good

Some ugly realities are best left covered over. And sometimes this is beneficial. In the dentist’s office injections have replaced shots or needles. Patients experience discomfort instead of hurting. Use of the Latinate word distances the sufferer from the suffering.

On solemn occasions, too, a high Latinate density is appropriate:

  • The Gettysburg Address (38%)

  • The Declaration of Independence (56%)

Latinate: The Bad

Hypocrites use Latinate words to gloss over their sordid intentions. George Orwell pointed out how deceivers misuse Latinate words. First, he vividly described three events in predominantly Germanic language. Then he gave Latinate summaries of those events:

Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.

The earthy Germanic words show cruelty and suffering in vivid English. The Latinate words turn human beings into bloodless abstractions.

Orwell proved a true prophet of Latinate euphemisms that transform an ugly reality into a bloodless abstraction, a killer into a terminator. George Carlin tracked the change in terminology from shell shock to more abstract descriptions: battle fatigue, which was replaced by operational exhaustion, which yielded to post-traumatic stress disorder. “Enhanced interrogation techniques” mask the word torture, itself a Latin word (“twisting”).

The Unabomber’s “Manifesto” has a very high Latinate density (59%). The radical activist David Gilbert, who drove the getaway van in a robbery that resulted in the deaths of a guard and two policemen, calls the episode the “Brink’s expropriation.” The Latinate word blurs the reality that he helped kill three people.

Ron Ziegler, the Press Secretary for President Nixon, expressed his indignation at the accusations of the Washington Post in highly Latinate language (67%):

I will not dignify with comment stories based on hearsay, character assassination, innuendo or guilt by association.… The president is concerned about the technique being applied by the opposition in the stories themselves.… The opposition has been making charges which have not been substantiated.” 

He later admitted that his statements “inoperative,” meaning not that they were false, but that they could not be passed off as true.

Latinate: The Ugly

Marvel at this sentence from Judith Butler (72%):

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.”

Judith Butler’s sentence without the excluded words:

move structuralist account capital understood structure social relations relatively homologous ways view hegemony power relations subject repetition, convergence, rearticulation brought question temporality thinking structure, marked shift form theory takes structural totalities theoretical objects insights contingent possibility structure inaugurate renewed conception hegemony bound contingent sites strategies rearticulation power.

And sorted according to language of origin:

strategies hegemony theory theoretical homologous hegemony

move structuralist capital structure form social relations relatively relations subject repetition, convergence, rearticulation contingent sites rearticulation question temporality structure, structural totalities objects contingent possibility structure inaugurate conception

view power account power

renewed bound understood insights marked shift brought takes thinking ways