Saturday, April 16, 2011

When Is A Coyote Not A Coyote?

When it's a scumbag who exploits Mexican nationals by gouging them monetarily and abusing them physically as they bring them illegally across the southern American border. But that's not really the point of this article. I just read an Associated Press dispatch about euphemisms being used in Mexico for all the violence resulting from the drug wars.

It seems there are two lines of thought about why euphemisms and verbal shorthand are commonplace among all classes of Mexican citizens. Either (or both) may be correct. The first line is that jargon anesthetizes people by making extreme behavior seem mundane, and may be an intentional plan formed by the drug cartels. The second is that it is a psychological defense mechanism that the average person uses to deal with the horrific. I don't come down on either side, at least for now.

This list is not even close to being exhaustive, but hits the most common euphemisms surrounding the drug violence that is slowly spilling across the border. "Narco" has become the common usage for those involved in the violent drug trade, and it also serves as a prefix for other expressions deriving from the violence. "Narco fosas" are pits where the drug gangs dispose of their victims. "Narco mantas" are the threatening banners that the gangs use over highway overpasses to terrorize those who might interfere with their activities. "Narco tiendas" are compact areas for drug-dealing.

Cartel fellow-travelers who inform the gangs of possible police activity are called "posts" or "stakes" in Spanish because they hang around in one place trying to get information. "Ventanas" (windows) are informers who walk around and occasionally mark intended targets with special graffiti or advertising fliers. Contract killings are "jobs," kidnap-murders are "pickups," and "settling accounts" means killing rivals. "Necklacing" (originally used in South Africa, but adapted by the cartels) means placing gasoline-soaked tires over a bound enemy's body and setting them on fire.

We have done much the same thing over the years in America, and probably for the same reasons--some good, some bad, some situational, some intentional. And motives are often hard to discern. "Whack" for kill. "Taken for a ride" meaning grabbed and taken away to be killed. "Snitch" for police informer. "Tragedy" for an intentional act of violence which results in multiple deaths or injuries. "Hit" (in both countries) to mean "murder." The list could go on and on. I'm sure you can think of plenty.

That got me thinking about the euphemisms revolving around the mass murder of 3000 innocent civilians by religious/political terrorists on American soil nearly ten years ago. The appellation "9/11" had been adopted by nearly everyone who discusses the attack. It tends to demean the deaths, but I believe that is largely unintentional, and it is good shorthand for a single horrendous event. It eliminates the need to revisit the horror by having to describe it.

However, I think the left owns the intentional downgrading of the horror with its carefully-crafted euphemisms. "Man-caused disaster" for mass murder of civilians. "Extremists" for Islamic terrorists who are not far from mainstream Islam. "Angry youths" for mad dogs who are clearly identifiable as mid-twenties Muslims. "Kinetic military action" when talking about which Islamic group we will attack while defending a different Islamic group. "Fundamentalist Muslim" for those who simply take the Koran at its word without quibble.

And then there's the old tried and true euphemism "racist" for those who are willing to name the enemy and the crime. "Islamophobe" describes anyone who thinks that Islam is not the religion of peace and can point out multiple examples of recent mass murders and attempted mass murders committed by those same Islamists. "Allahu Akbar" as simply meaning "God/Allah is great" when in fact it is the Muslim version of "Geronimo" as an attack is being carried out. Let's not forget "Muslim Cultural Center" as a substitute for "Ground Zero Mosque." "Personal struggle" for jihad, neglecting to notice that Mein Kampf means pretty much the same thing.

I'm not going to agonize over this trend, but I couldn't help giving it some thought. I imagine more than a few of you have had the same thoughts. Once in a rare while, even the AP provokes some genuine musing.


Tennessee Jed said...

I would agree that most euphemisms are just in our nature to have our local plebian vernacular. At times though, as you point out, there can be a definite method to the madness (e.g. soften actual descriptive terms such as Islamic terrorists that don't help the agenda.)

Joel Farnham said...


From my understanding of the Mexican Culture, a euphemism is used to "soften the blow" or if the Federali are on the line. Only the American Left, Soviet Politburo, and Nazi High Command use euphemisms and PC words as a policy of state. Kind of interesting that a criminal organization has to use euphemisms in their daily work. Makes me think that the others are criminal organizations as well. :)

T_Rav said...

LawHawk, I think the euphemisms are a little of both. Probably both the drug cartel operatives and the people who have to live with the situation have adopted this vocabulary for reasons of their own, or one group started it and the other took advantage of it. I don't think it matters too much who.

Incidentally, I've heard our problems on the Mexican border are nothing compared to the Mexico-Guatemala border. Because--surprise!--the Mexican government doesn't like having illegals come into its country any more than we do, so they're forceful about sealing off the country from Central American refugees. As a result, human trafficking is out of control along the border there, and the people who engage in it are just as cutthroat as the coyotes and narcos.

Unknown said...

Tennessee: Every profession, every class and even every age has its jargon. Sometimes it's just handy, and sometimes its purpose is to exclude. But it does seem to me that like Orwell, the left and its political-correctness have brought euphemism to a high art. In their case, it is both to "avoid rancor" and more importantly, to hide their destructive agenda. "Affirmative action" for "racial discrimination" and "choice" for "abortion" are just the most common examples.

Unknown said...

Joel: That's very true. Imagine what the Jews being marched into the death camps must have thought as they entered under a sign that said "Arbeit macht frei" ("work makes you free") when it actually meant "we will work you to death."

Unknown said...

T_Rav: I agree. As I said, I haven't really come down on either side of the debate since it seems that often the euphemism serves one purpose, or the other purpose, or sometimes both.

On that southern border of Mexico, the nation of Mexico enforces its immigration policy in a daily manner that is far more brutal and deadly than anything they can make up to describe our alleged treatment of illegals.

AndrewPrice said...

The thing about euphemisms is that they never work. By intentionally not calling attention to what it is, you are basically making it a bigger deal. And pretty soon that words becomes poisonous, which is why liberals are always changing euphemisms. It's a delusion to think you can control people's thoughts in this way.

Unknown said...

Andrew: That seems to be true of almost every liberal euphemism I can think of. They only fool people for a short time, if at all.

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