Steven Pinker in his latest work — on the subject of how humanity is improving — cites our old friend George Orwell. Psychologist Pinker speaks highly of “Politics and the English Language” in The Better Angels of Our Nature.
Typically a euphemism uses a word to contrast with its actual meaning, he reports. But he goes deeper: “[M]ost euphemisms work more insidiously: not by triggering reactions to the words themselves but by engaging different conceptual interpretations of the state of the world. For example, a euphemism can confer plausible deniability on what is essential a lie. A listener unfamiliar with the facts could understand transfer of population to imply move vans and train tickets. A choice of words can also imply different motive and hence different ethical values.”
Listeners and speakers alike allow this mechanism to transpire to avoid taking moral responsibility in the face of continuing violence around the world, Pinker concludes.