On Use of the Word “Nazi”

captain-america-1Writing my grandfather’s story is going to mean writing about the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1920’s.

The word “Nazi” is loaded — for good reason. It’s what call the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP.) The Nazis are responsible for the murder of over 6 million Jews, a war that killed another 50 to 80 million people, and shaped the world in ways that still affect us today. It’s hard to list all the bad they caused because it’s easy to leave something out and offend someone. We should think twice when we refer to them and when we use their name to describe others.

But that’s what makes the word so hard to use now: it’s been diminished via overuse. It appears so often online there’s an adage about the inevitably of it being used to describe someone.

The word has been in very heavy use the past couple of years to describe our current President, political opponents from both parties, and at least of two of the current candidates.

In none of these cases is the word deserved. It’s pure hyperbole. Doing and saying things you don’t like doesn’t make someone a genocidal fascist (or even a non-genocidal fascist) it’s makes them someone who does things you don’t like.

Yes, Trump seems to have the potential, but right now that’s all it is. He’s still just a reality TV star that knows how to work an audience. That is a little scary but he’s not a dictator yet, and there is a difference between a garden-variety racist and a genocidal dictator.

My dilemma is this: I’m going to have to refer to members of the NSDAP and their party affiliation. Sometimes it will be in a character’s dialogue and the word “Nazi” will fit: it was still used as a word to insult NSDAP members then. Other times I will need to refer to the party in “neutral narration” or in this blog. What name do I use?

Which terms fits? Does the work Nazi generate more heat than light? What do you think?




4 thoughts on “On Use of the Word “Nazi”

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  1. You’re right: when it all started, even though it was a pretty nasty group, the NSDAP wasn’t yet what Hitler turned it into, so the Nazi moniker as it is understood now doesn’t quite fit. I think National Socialist Party is probably good enough: it also isn’t quite “there” yet is familiar enough that we know where it’s going.

  2. I think you need to use other words to talk about subtleties leading up to what we now think of as Nazism. For clarity you shouldn’t use that word to convey anything other than what it has come to mean. You should find ways to use it appropriately so by contrast you’ll have the basis for distinctions and the licence to discuss them.

    It’s a bit like “hacker” that once meant enthusiast and later came to be associated entirely with criminality. Nobody could use hacker in the old sense to describe themselves. (Though that seems to be turning back around).

    But the bigger challenge seems to be how to talk about the personal connection and love that you must have for your family while also giving proper treatment to the horrors that surrounded them. You are brave to try this.

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