The Distasteful Language of AIG
Edward Liddy, CEO of AIG, called the bonuses rewarded to executives of that company's broken down financials division--one of the first dominoes to set off the worldwide financial crisis--"distasteful." It's too bad the committee grilling he got didn't have a laugh track. Setting aside all the moral and social implications of the bonuses themselves, which have been analyzed and opined upon by better thinkers than I, let's look at the word distasteful and other peculiarly timid words.
We live in time of hyperbole and diminution, depending on the desperation of the speaker. So someone up to his sinuses in AIG contractual perks might try to soften his criticism with a word like distasteful, which is a nice, mannered, and in this context wussy word that is great in a conversation with your blue-haired aunt in Pasadena.
But in reference to merit pay for a group of people who plainly, idiotically devastated a global financial system, even a moment's thought would bring up half a dozen stronger adjectives, including wrong, repugnant, immoral, criminal, and bullshit. I suppose if you don't want to pop a paper bag in the den of sleeping lions, then definitely flee to something as low-calorie as distasteful, which is more suited to describing someone eating custard with a fork.
Look at the over-whipped dray horse inappropriate, a word that takes even one step further back from distasteful. While it should be retained solely for describing things like cartoon character neckties or elbows on the table, it's now enlisted to lend an acceptably less judgmental label of things such as incest, use of force, waterboarding, spousal battery, and some other human behaviors we had hoped ended with the Inquisition Again, "criminal" comes to mind as well as despicable, foul, revolting, and wrong (with or without the intensifier "fucking"--a word we'll deal with on its own at another time).
A friend once said, half seriously, that the definition of "minor surgery" is surgery that happens to someone else, and I guess too that the convenient smart-bomb of a word like racist has been so over-applied that it's true meaning in describing a scourge, a lazy person's way to tar someone of a different race who disagrees with you. Even the term "person" takes away the sting of having to say outright whether it's a man or woman, pronouns having become their own battlegrounds.
There's a whole package of encoded words being thrown around now, a lot of them utilized to their most magical extent on places like Match.com. Passionate means obsessed, and spiritual is code for convenient. In broader applications, ambitious stands in for egocentric, subpar replaces crappy, and saddened is a placeholder for "I don't know what to feel but this ought to do."
This isn't a knock--just a request for more shovel-ready plain speech in public conversation, so that we're not walking around saddened by someone else's distastefully inappropriate excuses. The American People deserve better.