Excelsior 10 février 1924

DURING the parliamentary discussion relating to the decree-laws, Mr. Poincaré. has continued to protest against the formidable name which has been given to the regulatory measures requested by the government. The word “decree-law” weighed heavily on the entire debate. We fought against the name much more than against the thing. We fought against a procession of images and ideas evoking Caesarism, imperialism, dictatorship and tyranny. Once again the omnipotence of words was affirmed. Everything would have been simplified if we had found a euphemism.

The search for euphemism must be one of the dominant concerns of politicians. Have you noticed how happily our recent tax increase was named? If taxpayers had been told: “You are currently paying a contribution of 5,000 francs; we are going to raise it from now on to 6,000”, we would have provoked an explosion of indignant fury. The announcement of a 20% surcharge would also have been very poorly received. But the little extra of the “double decima” seemed the most innocuous thing in the world and was accepted everywhere with a smile. These words only evoke, in the eyes of distracted passers-by, two nickel coins whose sacrifice does not seem painful.

Tax language is particularly rich in benign euphemisms. The “additional cent” and the “provisional twelfth” were already psychological discoveries of the first order. The “double decime”, in reality designating the heavy proportion of a fifth, is not unworthy of the philological tradition, so subtle and so happy, of our Ministry of Finance, which, as a virtuoso of vocabulary, wanted to crown its works by renaming himself. The Ministry of Finance will now be called the Ministry of the Treasury.
The Treasury!... At this magic word, evocative of the riches of Golconda, don't you immediately feel reassured about our national credit and don't you notice Mr. de Lasteyrie standing guard in front of our metallic cash, like the Siegfried's dragon in front of the cave where the fantastic pile of Rhine gold sleeps?…

euphemism and political language