George Monbiot has written a superb and important article on how the (Western) world is pervaded by euphemistic, dehumanising, and belittling language that allows those in positions of power to feel better about doing horrific things. Quite literally, for example, to get away with murder.
Disabled people are talked about as “stock”; the murder of thousands of innocent civilians is described as “mowing the lawn” (lest the grass should “grow back”); human beings who are suspected terrorists are described as forming a “cancerous tumour”, with innocent civilians being merely the “the tissue around it”. What bout killing (“neutralising”) and maiming human beings (sorry, “personnel targets”) taking shelter in houses (“compounds”), using chemical weapons banned by international treaty? “Shake ’n’ bake”! Human beings killed extra-judicially by unmanned drones? “Bug splats”!
Those most eager to wage war are also the ones who are the most dependent on sanitised metaphor and pathetic euphemisms to describe their actions. But as Monbiot points out - few people have nightmares (or suffer from PTSD, or are haunted for the rest of their lives) by the thought of squashing bugs, or mowing the lawn.
If the language they used more were less euphemistic, they would be forced at least to think about the sickening, horrific reality of what they were doing to their fellow human beings. And the general public would be compelled to do the same.
As Rudyard Kipling reflected: “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.“
Terms such as these are designed to replace mental images of death and mutilation with images of something else. Others, such as “collateral damage” (dead or wounded civilians), “kinetic activity” (shooting and bombing), “compounds” (homes) and “extraordinary rendition” (kidnapping and torture by states), are intended to prevent the formation of any mental pictures at all. If you can’t see what is being discussed, you will struggle to grasp the implications. The clearest example is “neutralising”, which neutralises the act of killing it describes.