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Euphemism as a Political Strategy

December 2000

Citation: ELR 11189

Author: Gerald E. Frug

The standard arguments for smart growth rely on "the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant"—to quote the dictionary's definition of a euphemism.1 "Smart growth" is, of course, itself a feel-good term. But it is by no means the only one. Almost as pervasive are terms like "sustainability" and "livable communities."2 Who could be for dumb growth or think that unsustainable, unlivable places were desirable? Moreover, it is not just these general catch-phrases that rely on euphemism for their effect. When the goals of smart growth are defined more precisely, they regularly skirt controversy by omitting any hint of conflict or dissonance. Consider, for example, the Sierra Club's one-sentence definition:

Smart growth is intelligent, well-planned development that channels growth into existing areas, provides public transportation options, and preserves farm land and open space.3

Gerald Frug is the Louis D. Brandeis Professor of Law at Harvard University.

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