Americans have trouble facing the truth. So they invent a kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it. . . .

“Sometime during my life toilet paper became bathroom tissue. . . . Sneakers became running shoes. False teeth became dental appliances. Medicine became medication. Information became directory assistance. The dump became the landfill. Car crashes became automobile accidents. Partly cloudy became partly sunny. Motels became motor lodges. House trailers became mobile homes. Used cars became previously owned transportation. Room service became guest room dining. Constipation became occasional irregularity. . . .

“The CIA doesn’t kill anybody anymore. They neutralize people. Or they depopulate the area. The government doesn’t lie. It engages in misinformation.”
(George Carlin, “Euphemisms.” Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics, 1990)

“When a company is ‘levering up,’ it often means, in regular language, that it is spending money it doesn’t have. When it is ‘right-sizing’ or finding ‘synergies,’ it may well be firing people. When it ‘manages stakeholders,’ it could be lobbying or bribing. When you dial into ‘customer care,’ they care very little. But when they call you, even at dinnertime, then it’s a ‘courtesy call.’”
(A. Giridharadas, “Language as a Blunt Tool of the Digital Age.” The New York Times, Jan. 17, 2010)

George Carlin on “Shell Shock” and “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”
“Here’s an example. There’s a condition in combat that occurs when a soldier is completely stressed out and is on the verge of a nervous collapse. In World War I it was called ‘shell shock.’ Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables. Shell shock. It almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was more than eighty years ago.

“Then a generation passed, and in World War II the same combat condition was called ‘battle fatigue.’ Four syllables now; takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to hurt as much. ‘Fatigue’ is a nicer word than ‘shock.’ Shell shock! Battle fatigue.

“By the early 1950s, the Korean War had come along, and the very same condition was being called ‘operational exhaustion.’ The phrase was up to eight syllables now, and any last traces of humanity had been completely squeezed out of it. It was absolutely sterile: operational exhaustion. Like something that might happen to your car.

“Then, barely fifteen years later, we got into Vietnam, and, thanks to the deceptions surrounding that war, it’s no surprise that the very same condition was referred to as ‘post-traumatic stress disorder.’ Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen, and the pain is completely buried under jargon: post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ll bet if they had still been calling it ‘shell shock,’ some of those Vietnam veterans might have received the attention they needed.

“But it didn’t happen, and one of the reasons is soft language; the language that takes the life out of life. And somehow it keeps getting worse.”
(George Carlin, Napalm & Silly Putty. Hyperion, 2001)

Jules Feiffer on Being “Poor” and “Disadvantaged”
“I used to think I was poor. Then they told me I wasn’t poor, I was needy. Then they told me it was self-defeating to think of myself as needy, I was deprived. Then they told me deprived was a bad image, I was underprivileged. Then they told me underprivileged was over-used, I was disadvantaged. I still don’t have a dime. But I have a great vocabulary.”
(Jules Feiffer, cartoon caption, 1965)

George Carlin on Poverty
“Poor people used to live in slums. Now ‘the economically disadvantaged’ occupy ‘substandard housing’ in the ‘inner cities.’ And a lot of them are broke. They don’t have ‘negative cash flow.’ They’re broke! Because many of them were fired. In other words, management wanted to ‘curtail redundancies in the human resources area,’ and so, many workers are no longer ‘viable members of the workforce.’ Smug, greedy, well-fed white people have invented a language to conceal their sins. It’s as simple as that.”
(George Carlin, Napalm & Silly Putty. Hyperion, 2001)

Soft Language in Business
“It is perhaps only a sign of the times that one business appoints a new executive, a chief information officer, to ‘monitor the life cycle of documents’–that is, to take charge of the shredder.”
(Robert M. Gorrell, Watch Your Language!: Mother Tongue and Her Wayward Children. Univ. of Nevada Press, 1994)

Opaque Words
“Today, the real damage isn’t done by the euphemisms and circumlocutions that we’re likely to describe as Orwellian. Ethnic cleansing, revenue enhancement, voluntary regulation, tree-density reduction, faith-based initiatives, extra affirmative action–those terms may be oblique, but at least they wear their obliquity on their sleeves.

“Rather, the words that do the most political work are simple ones–jobs and growth, family values, and color-blind, not to mention life and choice. Concrete words like these are the hardest ones to see through–they’re opaque when you hold them up to the light.”
(Geoffrey Nunberg, Going Nucular: Language, Politics, and Culture in Confrontational Times. Public Affairs, 2004)

Soft Language in Stephen Dedalus’s Dream of Hell
“Goatish creatures with human faces, horny-browed, lightly bearded and grey as india-rubber. The malice of evil glittered in their hard eyes, as they moved hither and thither, trailing their long tails behind them. . . . Soft language issued from their spittleless lips as they swished in slow circles round and round the field, winding hither and thither through the weeds, dragging their long tails amid the rattling canisters. They moved in slow circles, circling closer and closer to enclose, to enclose, soft language issuing from their lips, their long swishing tails besmeared with stale shite, thrusting upwards their terrific faces . . ..”
(James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1916)

“I’m a modern man, a man for the millennium. Digital and smoke free. A diversified multi-cultural, post-modern deconstruction that is anatomically and ecologically incorrect. I’ve been up linked and downloaded, I’ve been inputted and outsourced, I know the upside of downsizing, I know the downside of upgrading. I’m a high-tech low-life. A cutting edge, state-of-the-art bi-coastal multi-tasker and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond!
I’m new wave, but I’m old school and my inner child is outward bound. I’m a hot-wired, heat seeking, warm-hearted cool customer, voice activated and bio-degradable. I interface with my database, my database is in cyberspace, so I’m interactive, I’m hyperactive and from time to time I’m radioactive. Behind the eight ball, ahead of the curve, riding the wave, dodging the bullet and pushing the envelope. I’m on-point, on-task, on-message and off drugs. I’ve got no need for coke and speed. I’ve got no urge to binge and purge. I’m in-the-moment, on-the-edge, over-the-top and under-the-radar. A high-concept, low-profile, medium-range ballistic missionary. A street-wise smart bomb. A top-gun bottom feeder. I wear power ties, I tell power lies, I take power naps and run victory laps. I’m a totally ongoing big-foot, slam-dunk, rainmaker with a pro-active outreach. A raging workaholic. A working rageaholic. Out of rehab and in denial! I’ve got a personal trainer, a personal shopper, a personal assistant and a personal agenda. You can’t shut me up. You can’t dumb me down because I’m tireless and I’m wireless, I’m an alpha male on beta-blockers. I’m a non-believer and an over-achiever, laid-back but fashion-forward. Up-front, down-home, low-rent, high-maintenance. Super-sized, long-lasting, high-definition, fast-acting, oven-ready and built-to-last! I’m a hands-on, foot-loose, knee-jerk head case pretty maturely post-traumatic and I’ve got a love-child that sends me hate mail. But, I’m feeling, I’m caring, I’m healing, I’m sharing– a supportive, bonding, nurturing primary care-giver. My output is down, but my income is up. I took a short position on the long bond and my revenue stream has its own cash-flow. I read junk mail, I eat junk food, I buy junk bonds and I watch trash sports! I’m gender specific, capital intensive, user-friendly and lactose intolerant. I like rough sex. I like tough love. I use the “F” word in my emails and the software on my hard-drive is hardcore–no soft porn. I bought a microwave at a mini-mall; I bought a mini-van at a mega-store. I eat fast-food in the slow lane. I’m toll-free, bite-sized, ready-to-wear and I come in all sizes. A fully-equipped, factory-authorized, hospital-tested, clinically-proven, scientifically- formulated medical miracle. I’ve been pre-wash, pre-cooked, pre-heated, pre-screened, pre-approved, pre-packaged, post-dated, freeze-dried, double-wrapped, vacuum-packed and, I have an unlimited broadband capacity. I’m a rude dude, but I’m the real deal. Lean and mean! Cocked, locked and ready-to-rock. Rough, tough and hard to bluff. I take it slow, I go with the flow, I ride with the tide. I’ve got glide in my stride. Drivin and movin, sailin and spinin, jiving and groovin, wailin and winnin. I don’t snooze, so I don’t lose. I keep the pedal to the metal and the rubber on the road. I party hearty and lunch time is crunch time. I’m hangin in, there ain’t no doubt and I’m hangin tough, over and out!”

“You can prick your finger just don’t finger your prick.”

“You know, for someone who’s supposed to be flying an airplane, he’s taking a mighty big interest in what I’m doing back here.”

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”

Soft language. That language that takes the life out of life. And it is a function of time. It does keep getting worse. I’ll give you another example. Sometime during my life. Sometime during my life, toilet paper became bathroom tissue. I wasn’t notified of this. No one asked me if I agreed with it. It just happened. Toilet paper became bathroom tissue. Sneakers became running shoes. False teeth became dental appliances. Medicine became medication. Information became directory assistance. The dump became the landfill. Car crashes became automobile accidents. Partly cloudy became partly sunny. Motels became motor lodges. House trailers became mobile homes. Used cars became previously owned transportation. Room service became guest-room dining. And constipation became occasional irregularity. When I was a little kid, if I got sick they wanted me to go to the hospital and see a doctor. Now they want me to go to a health maintenance organization…or a wellness center to consult a healthcare delivery professional. Poor people used to live in slums. Now the economically disadvantaged occupy substandard housing in the inner cities. And they’re broke! They’re broke! They don’t have a negative cash-flow position. They’re fucking broke! Cause a lot of them were fired. You know, fired. management wanted to curtail redundancies in the human resources area, so many people are no longer viable members of the workforce.

“You can’t be afraid of words that speak the truth. I don’t like words that hidethe truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms oreuphemistic language. And American english is loaded with euphemisms. BecauseAmericans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have troublefacing the truth, so they invent a kind of a soft language to protect themselvesfrom it. And it gets worse with every generation. For some reason it just keepsgetting worse.I’ll give you an example of that. There’s a condition in combat. Most people knowabout it. It’s when a fighting person’s nervous system has been stressed to it’sabsolute peak and maximum, can’t take any more input. The nervous system haseither snapped or is about to snap. In the first world war that condition wascalled shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables. Shell shock.Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was 70 years ago. Then a wholegeneration went by. And the second world war came along and the very same combatcondition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer tosay. Doesn’t seem to be as hard to say. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shellshock…battle fatigue.Then we had the war in Korea in 1950. Madison Avenue was riding high by that time.And the very same combat condition was called Operational Exhaustion. Hey we’re upto 8 syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of thephrase now. It’s totally sterile now. Operational Exhaustion: sounds likesomething that might happen to your car. Then of course came the war in Vietnam,which has only been over for about 16 or 17 years. And thanks to the lies anddeceit surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise that the very same conditionwas called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Still 8 syllables, but we’ve added ahyphen. And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-Traumatic StressDisorder.I bet you, if we’d still been calling it shell shock, some of those Vietnamveterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I bet you that.But it didn’t happen. And one of the reasons is because we were using that softlanguage, that language that takes out the life out of life. And it is a functionof time it does keep getting worse.Give you another example. Sometime during my life toilet paper became bathroomtissue. I wasn’t notified of this. No one asked me if I agreed with it. It justhappened. Toilet paper became bathroom tissue. Sneakers became running shoes.False teeth became dental appliances. Medicine became medication. Informationbecame directory assistance. The dump became the land fill. Car crashes becameautomobile accidents. Partly cloudy became partly sunny. Motels became motorlodges. House trailers became mobile homes. Used cars became previously ownedtransportation. Room service became guest room dining. Constipation becameoccasional irregularity.When I was a little kid if I got sick they wanted me to go to a hospital and seethe doctor. Now they want me to go to a health maintenance organization. Or awellness center to consult a health care delivery professional. Poor people usedto live in slums. Now the economically disadvantaged occupy sub-standard housingin the inner cities. And they’re broke! They’re broke. They don’t have a negativecash flow position. They’re f–kin’ broke! Because a lot of them were fired. Youknow, fired. Management wanted to curtail redundancies in the human resourcesarea. So many people are no longer viable members of the work force.Smug, greedy well-fed white people have invented a language to conceal their sins.It’s as simple as that. The CIA doesn’t kill people anymore, they neutralize people, or they depopulate the area. The government doesn’t lie, it engages indisinformation. The pentagon actually measures radiation in something they callsunshine units. Israeli murderers are called commandos. Arab commandos are calledterrorists. Contra killers are called freedom fighters. Well if crime fightersfight crime and fire fighters fight fire what do freedom fighters fight? Theynever mention that part of it to us, do they?And some of this stuff is just silly. We know that. Like when the airlines tell usto pre-board. What the hell is pre-board? What does that mean? To get on beforeyou get on?They say they’re going to pre-board those passengers in need of special assistance…cripples! Simple honest direct language. There’s no shame attached to the wordcripple I can find in any dictionary. In fact it’s a word used in Bibletranslations. “Jesus healed the cripples.” Doesn’t take seven words to describethat condition. But we don’t have cripples in this country anymore. We have thephysically challenged. Is that a grotesque enough evasion for you? How aboutdifferently-abled? I’ve heard them called that. Differently-abled! You can’t evencall these people handicapped anymore. They say: “We’re not handicapped, we’rehandy capable!” These poor people have been bullsh-tted by the system intobelieving that if you change the name of the condition somehow you’ll change thecondition. Well hey cousin … doesn’t happen!We have no more deaf people in this country. Hearing impaired. No more blindpeople. Partially sighted or visually impaired. No more stupid people, everyonehas a learning disorder. Or he’s minimally exceptional. How would you like to toldthat about your child? ‘He’s minimally exceptional.’ Psychologists have actuallystarted calling ugly people those with severe appearance deficits. It’s getting sobad that any day now I expect to hear a rape victim referred to as an unwillingsperm recipient!And we have no more old people in this country. No more old people. We shippedthem all away and we brought in these senior citizens. Isn’t that a typicallyAmerican twentieth century phrase? Bloodless. Lifeless. No pulse in one of them. Asenior citizen. But I’ve accepted that one. I’ve come to terms with it. I knowit’s here to stay. We’ll never get rid of it. But the one I do resist, the one Ikeep resisting, is when they look at an old guy and say, “Look at him Dan, he’sninety years young.” Imagine the fear of aging that reveals. To not even be ableto use the word old to describe someone. To have to use an antonym.And fear of aging is natural. It’s universal, isn’t it? We all have that. No onewants to get old. No one wants to die. But we do. So we con ourselves. I startedconning myself when I got in my forties. I’d look in the mirror and say, “Well…Iguess I’m getting …older.” Older sounds a little better than old, doesn’t it?Sounds like it might even last a little longer. I’m getting old. And it’s okay.Because thanks to our fear of death in this country I won’t have to die. I’ll passaway. Or I’ll expire, like a magazine subscription. If it happens in the hospitalthey’ll call it a terminal episode. The insurance company will refer to it asnegative patient care outcome. And if it’s the result of malpractice they’ll sayit was a therapeutic misadventure.I’m telling ya, some of this language makes me want to vomit. Well, maybe notvomit …makes me want to engage in an involuntary personal protein spill.”

George Carlin On The Ten Commandments

I have a problem with the Ten Commandments. Here it is: Why are there ten? We don’t need that many. I think the list of commandments was deliberately and artificially inflated to get it up to ten. It’s clearly a padded list.

Here’s how it happened: About five thousand years ago, a bunch of reli­gious and political hustlers got together to figure out how they could control people and keep them in line. They knew people were basically stupid and would believe anything they were told, so these guys announced that God— God personally—had given one of them a list of Ten Commandments that he wanted everyone to follow. They claimed the whole thing took place on a mountaintop, when no one else was around.

But let me ask you something: When these guys were sittin’ around the tent makin’ all this up, why did they pick ten? Why ten? Why not nine, or eleven? I’ll tell you why. Because ten sounds important. Ten sounds official. They knew if they tried eleven, people wouldn’t take them seriously. People would say, “What’re you kiddin’ me? The Eleven Commandments? Get the fuck outta here!”

But ten! Ten sounds important. Ten is the basis for the decimal system; it’s a decade. It’s a psychologically satisfying number: the top ten; the ten most wanted; the ten best-dressed. So deciding on Ten Commandments was clearly a marketing decision. And it’s obviously a bullshit list. In truth, it’s a politic; document, artificially inflated to sell better.

I’m going to show you how you can reduce the number of commandments and come up with a list that’s a bit more logical and realistic. We’ll start with the first three, and I’ll use the Roman Catholic version because those are the ones I was fed as a little boy.




Okay, right off the bat, the first three commandments—pure bullshit “Sabbath day,” “Lord’s name,” “strange gods.” Spooky language. Spooky language designed to scare and control primitive people. In no way does superstitious mumbo jumbo like this apply to the lives of intelligent, civilized human in the twenty-first century. You throw out the first three commandments, am you’re down to seven.


This commandment is about obedience and respect for authority; in other words it’s simply a device for controlling people. The truth is, obedience and respect should not be granted automatically. They should be earned. They should be based on the parents’ (or the authority figure’s) performance. Some parents deserve respect. Most of them don’t. Period. We’re down to six.

Now, in the interest of logic—something religion has a really hard time with—I’m going to skip around the list a little bit:



Stealing and lying. Actually, when you think about it, these two com­mandments cover the same sort of behavior: dishonesty. Stealing and lying. So we don’t need two of them. Instead, we combine these two and call it “Thou shalt not be dishonest.” Suddenly we’re down to five.

And as long as we’re combining commandments I have two others that be­long together:



Once again, these two prohibit the same sort of behavior; in this case, mar­ital infidelity. The difference between them is that coveting takes place in the mind. And I don’t think you should outlaw fantasizing about someone else’s wife, otherwise what’s a guy gonna think about when he’s flogging his dong?

But marital fidelity is a good idea, so I suggest we keep the idea and call this commandment “Thou shalt not be unfaithful.” Suddenly we’re down to four.

And when you think about it further, honesty and fidelity are actually parts of the same overall value. So, in truth, we could combine the two honesty commandments with the two fidelity commandments, and, using positive lan­guage instead of negative, call the whole thing “Thou shalt always be honest and faithful.” And now we’re down to three.


This one is just plain stupid. Coveting your neighbor’s goods is what keeps the economy going: Your neighbor gets a vibrator that plays “O Come All Ye Faithful,” you want to get one, too. Coveting creates jobs. Leave it alone.

You throw out coveting and you’re down to two now: the big, combined honesty/fidelity commandment, and the one we haven’t mentioned yet:


Murder. The Fifth Commandment. But, if you give it a little thought, you realize that religion has never really had a problem with murder. Not really. More people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason.

To cite a few examples, just think about Irish history, the Middle East, the Crusades, the Inquisition, our own abortion-doctor killings and, yes, the World Trade Center to see how seriously religious people take Thou Shalt Not Kill. Apparently, to religious folks—especially the truly devout—murder is ne­gotiable. It just depends on who’s doing the killing and who’s getting killed.

And so, with all of this in mind, folks, I offer you my revised list of the Two Commandments:



And second:


Two is all you need, folks. Moses could have carried them down the hill in his pocket. And if we had a list like that, I wouldn’t mind that brilliant judge in Alabama displaying it prominently in his courthouse lobby. As long he in­cluded one additional commandment:


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