Gentle-speak or just don’t say die.

As a writer I care about the use of words and often stand in awe of some of the gifted weaving of various parts of speech that my colleagues do with such skill and apparent ease.

Today, within about three hours, while interviewing a couple of helpful people at the USDA and the FDA, I was stunned at the identical linguistic utterances that came from the mouths of two government officials.

With enthusiasm that comes with a new year, I was trying hard to pin down the history of a substance that had been approved for use as an additive by the FDA.  It doesn’t matter what the concoction was (because it will be months before I get enough to publish a story) But, while describing what little they knew about the material and how it got its government approval, both food safety experts used the same phrase.

In describing what might happen if this stuff or any other untested additive went awry, both said it could necessitate hospitalization or cause “possible treatment failure” in those exposed.

Huh?  Treatment failure?

A bit sheepishly, the gentleman from FDA quickly said: “You know. Death.” When asked why the agencies didn’t just say death, he added, “It is a bit jarring.”

I did a Google search to see if “treatment failure” had actually been used as a euphemism for death in any published government statement.  I found several.

For example, in August, the CDC reported on a “Multistate Outbreak of Human Salmonella Heidelberg Infections Linked to Turkey.”

It said: “. . . Heidelberg is resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics; this antibiotic resistance may increase the risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals.

I’m not sure what using the more gentle descriptive phrases mean, if anything.  I just found it interesting.




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