Features > Word for the unspeakable

14 August 2014 | by John Morrish

Word for the unspeakable

BITTER EXCHANGES are taking place every day on the subject of the conflict in Gaza. Some have accused the Israelis of genocide. The word has been applied more widely to the conflict in Iraq. But its meaning has been stretched and diluted to accommodate horrors that, in the eyes of those who use it, would otherwise not be sufficiently shocking. It is worth tracing the word back to its roots.In August 1941, two months after the Nazi invasion of Russia, Winston Churchill spoke about the mass butchery of “Russian patriots” (British intelligence had discovered they were mostly Jews) by the Einsatzgruppen death squads. He concluded: “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.” The name was not long in arriving. The word “genocide” was coined by a Polis


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