The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. (“The Principles of Newspeak,” appendix to 1984, George Orwell)

By Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) (File published on Camden House (Ignisart.com)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Sidney Paget (1860 – 1908) (File published on Camden House (Ignisart.com)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

You’re strapped face-up to a board so you can’t move, with a cloth pressed over your face, and turned head-down by 15 degrees or so. Water is poured over your nose and mouth. You gag, you vomit, you pass out as your lungs gasp helplessly for air that can’t get through. It takes only a second for the experience to become unbearably painful, and it goes on and on. In your desperation to escape, you may break your own bones against the restraints. The cloth keeps the ultimate effect, death, from happening too fast–the person pouring the water doesn’t want you to die, not yet–but you may well die if the brain damage from oxygen deprivation is extreme enough, or if you breathe vomit into your lungs. You don’t just feel like you’re drowning. You are drowning.

The CIA calls this “waterboarding.” That word sounds harmless, even fun. Maybe it’s a sport, like waterskiing or surfing–something involving a board and water and good times. Someone might say, “I’m tired of longboarding and snowboarding–let’s go waterboarding!”

No word in the B vocabulary was ideologically neutral. A great many were euphemisms. Such words, for instance, as joycamp (forced-labour camp) or Minipax (Ministry of Peace, i. e. Ministry of War) meant almost the exact opposite of what they appeared to mean.

What the CIA and its defenders want us to call “waterboarding” is torture, and calling it by the gentler name the torturers invented helps conceal the crime. If a more descriptive term than “torture” is needed, the term might be “drowning into unconsciouness” or “drowning to a point just short of death,” or simply “torture by drowning.” Every serious news source has a reader representative (readers@washpost.com, for example) or ombudsperson (here is the contact form for National Public Radio’s), or of course a Letters to the Editor section. Whenever I hear or read the term “waterboarding,” unless it’s clarified by “as the CIA calls it” and replaced in subsequent uses by an accurate term, I’m going to write to the source in question and tell them their job is to give us news, not Newspeak.

Take for example the well-known passage from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government. . .

It would have been quite impossible to render this into Newspeak while keeping to the sense of the original. The nearest one could come to doing so would be to swallow the whole passage up in the single word crimethink. A full translation could only be an ideological translation, whereby Jefferson’s words would be changed into a panegyric on absolute government.

 

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