Amtssprache is loosely translated into English as “office talk” or “bureaucratese.” It is a dangerous language that denies choice.
Amtssprache is word coined by the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann and his co-conspirators who carried out the mass slaughter of Jews. They found ways to disconnect any emotional sensibility they might have felt from prohibitive thoughts in order to continue their grisly work. They did it by developing a language that helped them to deny the reality of what they were doing and transfer the responsibility for their actions onto a faceless entity, like VA policy. In this extreme disconnection of thought and feeling innocent people died and perpetrators continued, immunizing themselves with their words and rationalizations. They blinded themselves to what they and their colleagues were doing in order to satisfy superiors’ orders so they could keep their jobs. During the Nuremberg trials, when Adolf Eichmann was asked, “was it difficult for you to send those tens of thousands of people to their death?’ Eichmann replied, ‘To tell you the truth, it was easy. Our language made it easy.’ Asked to explain, Eichmann said, ‘My fellow officers and I coined our name for our language. We called it an “amtssprache”–“office talk.” In our “office talk” you deny responsibility for your actions. So, if anybody says, “Why did you do it?” you say, “I had to.” Why did you have to?” “Superiors’ orders. Company policy. It’s the law”.’ Eichmann’s defense is also known as the “Nuremberg plea.”
In fact, what Eichmann said about the power of bureaucratically–obscure, euphemistically–mentioned language, shadowing operations few people participated in, provides a very clear example of how, by creating a culture that values following the rules, you risk also creating a culture that loses its moral compass or code.
The Eichmann defense is the most dangerous language (-have to, -can’t) because it is a language that denies responsibility for choice. Stating, “It’s my job”; “They told me to do it”; “I’m only following company policy”; “It’s the rules”; “It’s not my job”– shields ourselves from doing what is best and right.