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It’s hard to know whether a word can ever be rehabilitated – or whether the attempt should even be made. Words are weapons, and can be used like any tools, for good or ill. We are all aware of the clichéd uses of such terms as “terrorists” versus “freedom fighters” etc. An atheist can be called an “unbeliever”; a theist can be called “superstitious.” A man of conviction can be
called an “extremist”; a man of moderation “cowardly.” A free spirit can be called a libertine or a hedonist; a cautious introvert can be labeled a stodgy prude. Words are also weapons of judgment – primarily moral judgment. We can say that a man can be “freed” of sin if he accepts Jesus; we can also say that he can be “freed” of irrationality if he does not. A patriot will say that a soldier “serves” his country; others may take him to task for his blind obedience. Acts considered “murderous” in peacetime are hailed as “noble” in war, and so on.
Some words can never be rehabilitated – and neither should they be. Nazi, evil, incest, abuse, rape, murder – these are all words which describe the blackest impulses of the human soul, and can never be turned to a good end. Edmund may say in King Lear, “Evil, be thou my good!” but we know that he is not speaking paradoxically; he is merely saying “that which others call evil – my self-interest – is good for me.”

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