From "national socialists" to "nazi": History, politics, and the english language


Most scholars in the Anglo-American world rely on the slang word 'Nazi' to designate Hitler's Germany rather than the official term 'National Socialist.' The reason for this linguistic double standard is not merely that leftists wish to dissociate socialism from the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Because in the West the crimes of Hitler's regime were exposed more widely and deeply than equivalent or more monstrous perpetrations committed by other modern villains, in popular perception, 'Nazi' Germany became the symbol of the ultimate evil. Richard Overy, a prominent British historian of National Socialism, stresses that in English Nazi became a shorthand term that obscures more than it explains, and he cautions us that slack language is an enemy to proper historical explanation. Following the most recent scholarship on Hitler's dictatorship, he points out that there were in fact pockets of life in art, music, science, and leisure activities that were weakly or hardly affected by the dominant ideology. It appears that Overy wants to assure us that if we replaced Nazi with National Socialist, our understanding of Hitler's Germany would be somehow more nuanced. So, for all practical purposes, in British and American settings, the term Nazi became very useful. It was an emotionally and morally loaded abbreviation that was also conveniently short for an English-speaking people.

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Independent Review

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