“Tender age children”: don’t tolerate evil word-smithing

tender age children just like this one are crying in prisons thanks to the American governmentLast night, I turned on MSNBC just in time to hear Chris Hayes ask an interviewee if he’d heard about the whereabouts of the “tender age children.” I’d never heard that phrase before.

An hour later, I saw Rachel Maddow try mightily not to break down on camera while reading (mostly to herself) a breaking news alert that some of the “tender age children” had been located, although they’re still no closer to being freed.

As I watched the usually unflappable Maddow’s distress, I realized what “tender age children” means. It means:

Babies and Toddlers.

Of course, the administration wants to do all it can to avoid implanting in people’s minds the surely indelible image of

Babies and Toddlers

behind yards of chain-link fencing. Honestly, even if we were putting them up in a 5-star hotel with all the ice cream they could eat it would still be an abomination. These

Babies and Toddlers

need to be with their parents. The trauma of forced separation will scar them for life.

But just because the administration has come up with a vague-sounding phrase doesn’t mean any of us have to use it. The news media may have the biggest bullhorn when it comes to spreading the euphemism—but even if you don’t have a cable TV show, be careful of what you say.

Plain-language: more important than ever

I’ve been talking for years, maybe decades, about the importance of speaking and writing in plain language. Not gussying up your work with jargon or $500 words to make yourself sound like you belong. Whether you’re obfuscating to seem more sophisticated or obfuscating to hide your evil, shriveled soul, muddying up the truth is still muddying up the truth.

I don’t believe any of my readers have evil, shriveled souls. So please do not adopt the language of those who do.

Today it’s

Babies and Toddlers;

tomorrow it might be LGBT people. Or non-Christians (though surely if they rounded up those, Jeff Sessions should be first in line). Really any damn group they choose.

Only they won’t say they’re throwing us into camps because we’re gay. They’ll find some other excuse, obfuscate their true intentions with a phrase like “tender age children.”

The first time you hear it, they know you’ll think, “Wha?” The second time you hear it, they expect you’ll think, “Oh, okay.”

It’s not okay. Please don’t perpetuate language that makes it sound like it is.

Babies and Toddlers.
Locked up in cages.

If we as human beings can tolerate that, we can tolerate anything. God help us all.


Also published on Medium.