||20 ROBERT E. HELBLING Socrates would scratch his head and concede: "there are no words accurate enough to describe what men have wrought." Words like "disaster" and "catastrophe" are too frivolous to describe a ther-monucler war, and the term "unacceptable damage" is a monstrous howler. It suggests that there is an acceptable damage, for instance if you drop a neutron bomb that silences people but leaves their telephone lines intact. Incidentally, the official term for a neutron bomb is "Enhanced Radiation-Reduced Blast" warhead. "To enhance" has a train of echos in it that suggests something salubrious like health or beauty; when linked with "radiation" it sounds grotesquely lugubrious. Our sensibilities may further be nettled by the term "levels of redundancy" to denote our ability to kill each other several times over. If you consider that a nuclear bomb makes a rather big bang, not just a whimper, the bureaucratic cliche turns into a percussive metaphor. The "medieval" mind was preoccupied, as the saying goes, with the terpsichorean problem of how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, our "enlightened" mind with the problem of how many warheads we can crowd on a missile. We now have nuclear theologians! To the linguistically sensitized folk, the many bloopers in our everyday speech produce a strange sensation - making one suddenly doubt one's familiar relationship with the language - not unlike the sense of disorientation aroused by the grotesque. Early in our century, the German poet Christian Morgenstern had adumbrated the vagaries of language in his nonsense verse, as had Brueghel in the sixteenth century in his illustrations of the linguistic quirks in proverbs. But in Morgenstern we can clearly discern an underlying moralistic intent: to be imprisoned in the cliches of language can be a most consequential, even dangerous, thing. We have no doubt become inured to our inarticulate verbiage but if in our more reflective moments we stop to think, we may become aware of the grotesque cleavage between "signifier" and "signified," to use semiological babble. We may be able to chuckle with some sadistic glee about the atrocities of former times such as the "Iron Maiden" and similar lovely devices used in the Middle Ages, but the wholesale institutionalized torture, actual or potential, in our own century can perhaps be comically disarmed only in the unintentional grotesqueries of our media-blabber, if at all. An increased awareness of our linguistic quandary may indeed help alert us to the pitfalls in our reasoning processes, for behind the helplessness of language looms a much greater crisis: the swamping of reason by the enormity of unreason.