The family went back to Greece when I was young and we returned to America when I was eight. I’m told that at school at the time I couldn’t speak English, only Greek. But the language barrier means nothing to me. Language is just a bunch of symbols. People’s emotions are fundamentally the same everywhere.
John Cassavetes, in Ray Carney (ed.), Cassavetes on Cassavetes, London, 2001, p. 4
Furthermore, all correspondence referring to the matter was subject to rigid “language rules,” and, except in the reports from the Einsatzgruppen, it is rare to find documents in which such bald words as “extermination,” “liquidation,” or “killing” occur. The prescribed code names for killing were “final solution,” “evacuation” (Aussiedlung), and “special treatment” (Sonder-behandlung); deportation—unless it involved Jews directed to Theresienstadt, the “old people’s ghetto” for privileged Jews, in which case it was called “change of residence”—received the names of “resettlement” (Umsiedlung) and “labor in the East” (Arbeitseinsatz im Osteri), the point of these latter names being that Jews were indeed often temporarily resettled in ghettos and that a certain percentage of them were temporarily used for labor. Under special circumstances, slight changes in the language rules became necessary. Thus, for instance, a high official in the Foreign Office once proposed that in all correspondence with the Vatican the killing of Jews be called the “radical solution”; this was ingenious, because the Catholic puppet government of Slovakia, with which the Vatican had intervened, had not been, in the view of the Nazis, “radical enough” in its anti-Jewish legislation, having committed the “basic error” of excluding baptized Jews. Only among themselves could the “bearers of secrets” talk in uncoded language, and it is very unlikely that they did so in the ordinary pursuit of their murderous duties—certainly not in the presence of their stenographers and other office personnel. For whatever other reasons the language rules may have been devised, they proved of enormous help in the maintenance of order and sanity in the various widely diversified services whose cooperation was essential in this matter. Moreover, the very term “language rule” (Sprachregelung) was itself a code name; it meant what in ordinary language would be called a lie. For when a “bearer of secrets” was sent to meet someone from the outside world—as when Eichmann was sent to show the Theresienstadt ghetto to International Red Cross representatives from Switzerland—he received, together with his orders, his “language rule,” which in this instance consisted of a lie about a nonexistent typhus epidemic in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, which the gentlemen also wished to visit. The net effect of this language system was not to keep these people ignorant of what they were doing, but to prevent them from equating it with their old, “normal” knowledge of murder and lies. Eichmann’s great susceptibility to catch words and stock phrases, combined with his incapacity for ordinary speech, made him, of course, an ideal subject for “language rules.”
Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, New York, 1964, pp. 85-86
Human suffering has been caused because too many of us cannot grasp that words are only tools for our use.
Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 2nd ed., Oxford, 1989, p. 18