The Grammarphobia Blog

The dirt on “ethnic cleansing”

Q: I am upset by the dreadful phrase “ethnic cleansing.” A “cleansing” is such a lovely sounding thing whereas “ethnic cleansing” is so horrifying. Can you suggest another phrase that would truly capture the meaning of ethnic cleansing?

A: You’re right about the horrendous euphemism “ethnic cleansing.” It suggests that a segment of a population should be considered dirty, and consequently swept away. It makes me shudder.

For an alternative, I’d recommend being as precise as possible. If you’re talking about genocide, call it genocide. If you mean mass expulsions or arrests to drive out an ethnic group, say so.

The best weapon against the slings and arrows of outrageous language is plain English.

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