Desensitizing Language

Yesterday I marveled at a man I follow on Instagram who posts the most amazing macro photographs. His most recent subjects were macro photos of ants at work. The shots were amazing especially if you are interested in the mechanics of photography:

I started thinking about how we use language to desensitize subjects that might be uncomfortable.

Let’s start with meats. We differentiate cow from beef, pork from pig, venison from deer, and mutton from sheep. The etymology of these words comes with quite a history lesson. I will not repeat all of it here, but this link gives you a little of the origin history (And no, I did not verify the historical references. I will leave that to you dear reader.)

What I will say is that it makes it more comfortable when you go into the grocery store and see meats fully dressed and called by its gastronomic name.

Thinking about war and the constant conflict in our world, we use  words like troops and forces. We rarely read about the humans on the ground fighting in these conflicts. We know all the military and political leaders by name but those fighting are rarely seen as individuals.

One of the most offensive phrases introduced in business to me was ‘human capital’. Ugh.

But back to the ants. We call animals and insects we want to remove from our lives pests. We know they are living creatures, but if we can classify them in a way that leaves them undesirable we can justify their removal. Of course, ants like all members of the ecosystem serve their purpose. The harm comes more when invasive species are introduced to a non-native environment.

Okay, this has become a stream of consciousness post and perhaps it is best to spare you any further rambling on my part. But before I go I must ask.

Isn’t language fascinating?