EUPHEMISMS and PEJORATIVES #
Euphonic means good sounding, while a euphemism is a pleasant word for something that may be unsavoury, objectionable, crude, direct or offensive. The use of euphemisms can often be justified in terms of personal relationships, diplomatic situations or to help change attitudes by means of a semantic shift.
Neutral language – orthophemism is straight talk; denotative, direct or neutral expressions that are not sweet-sounding, evasive, or overly polite (euphemistic), nor harsh, blunt, or offensive (dysphemistic).
Good language lies entirely in its relationship to the truth. Honest words represent reality, while guile can be deceptive. Poets pride themselves in expressing the essence of reality, while advertising, propaganda and ideology engages in perception management to distort reality by glamourising or demonising facades or appearances.
Poets use images, comparisons to create mental pictures whereas propagandists as George Orwell pointed out:
phrases intended to “name things without calling up mental pictures of them”.
When a word’s meaning becomes more negative over time, it’s referred to as pejoration. The opposite–when a meaning is viewed in a more positive light over time–is called melioration.
Word evolution like this is pretty common; some words even manage to go through both pejoration and melioration.
A pejorative is a word that suggests disapproval or even contempt.
It can be used to smear or denigrate an idea or opponents.
Pejoratives, also called a dysphemism; is the substitution of a harsh, disparaging, or unpleasant expression for a more neutral one.
Euphemisms and pejoratives can be used as semantic tricks used to manage perception; to create an impression that may not reflect real situations. As a framing device we can nudge people to see something from our perspective.
It is the deceit of words and sleight of hand which may not involve any deliberate falsehood, but inferentially manipulates our perceptions, what Wittengenstein calls “the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language and eristic argument”.
Alice in Wonderland #
If we have something to say, we say it clear and simply. If we have something to hide; we turn to euphemism or the pejorative.
“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.
“I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.”
“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”
“You might just as well say,” added the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like’!”
“You might just as well say,” added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, “that ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is the same thing as ‘I sleep when I breathe’!”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 7)
A pejorative or dysphemismhas a derogatory or negative connotation.
By a choice of words, you can semantically or connotatively, make a favourable or an unfavourable impression. Emotive or nuanced language can subconsciously influence the ways we see issues.
Man is neutral while gentleman is positive and dork is negative.
Girl is neutral while doll would be favourable, and dag would be the pejorative.
Spin and Weasel words are used to justify the unjustifiable and is a dishonest use of language to masquerade activity that is questionable.
Why we use Euphemisms #
1. To be Tactful:
Social decline or decay through an erosion of social values, social cohesion and lack of respect for those who do not have our advantage is a world wide problem. Factors include: rudeness, diminished personal respect and dignity, lack of empathy and verbal, psychological or emotional abuse. Cordial manners are about empathy and mutual respect.
They are not about dominance and submission. They are not adversarial, degrading or demeaning. Civility is a sign of confidence, self - assertion and strength – not weakness.
Theodore Roosevelt put it as
“Politeness is a sign of dignity, not subservience” while Goethe maintained “manners are the mirror of your portrait”.
Soften the effect of harsh reality (our real meaning)
Blunt the shock of a terrible tragedy or disaster
Unpleasant realities have to be given “inexistence”
Spare someone unnecessary embarrassment
Change people’s perspective – a paradigm shift
CHURCHILL’S DECLARATION OF WAR
Official communiqué to Emperor Tojo from Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
“Her Majesty’s government regrets to inform your royal highness that as from 12 o’clock noon, December 10, 1941 a state of war exists between the peoples of the British Empire and your country.”
When asked why he used such diplomatic language to an enemy, Churchill putatively replied:
“If you are going out to kill some bastard, it doesn’t hurt to talk nicely to him first”.
3. To be Deceitful
_- Aspirins coated in honey (sugar coated medicine)
Language used to conceal rather than reveal.
Speech given to mankind to disguise their thoughts
Perception management or manipulation of perception
Of more pressing importance is the deliberate perversion of the language to alter the perceptions of ordinary people by governments, corporations and assorted spin doctors. Cardinal Newman maintains “mistiness is the mother of safety” while Orwell is less subtle:
“Dishonest words fall upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up the details. Euphemism makes it point or dulls its point by the use of cliché.”
“Some writers are almost indifferent as to whether their words mean anything or not.”
John Kenneth Galbraith, in The Age of Wordfact explains:
The wordfact makes a precise substitute for reality. Where once a statesman suited action to his words, he now suits words to his actions. Except that these words are no longer words – they are quacks.
I would sooner see lovers of our language attacking its abuse and the deliberate use of inappropriate euphemisms to hide horrific realities, than waste their energies on minor infractions which do not interfere with essential meanings.
Ullman believed that Animism affected some societies to the extent that certain words became taboo based on:
- Fear 2) Delicacy 3) Decency
Freud theorised that some words were simply either:
sacred (consecrated or:
forbidden - because they were unclean
The recent controversy regarding the live cattle exporting to Indonesia gave rise to this internal email of the ABC:
The farmers concerned are not ‘cattle farmers’ – the correct term is ‘beef producers’ – or even graziers.
They are not ‘slaughterhouses’. The correct term is abattoir or meatworks.
Economics correspondent Stephen Long advocates honest language:
In all areas of journalism, though, I think we should be careful and sceptical about accepting and adopting industry terminology and jargon;
To preserve freedom, we have to become guardians of our language in order to keep it meaningful, honest and reflective of reality. That means being very intentional about using words. That means, for example, calling lies, “lies.”, not “misstatements,.
The definition of “lie” involves intent—a lie is a statement made with the intention to deceive. Euphemisms, the scourge of truth, like “misstatement” clearly connotes a lack of intent — simply an accidental wrong step. But words exist in time: the word “misstatement” suggests a singular occurrence, thereby eliding persuasive writer’s history of lying. The word “misstatement,” as applied to propaganda, is, actually, a lie—as it is the lie that there are neutral words.
Euphemisms for Death #
Death is a morbid, sensitive and painful area to deal with emotionally and therefore we tend to treat it delicately and substitute softer words for the harsh reality.
Commiserate ones like: Deceased, dearly departed, departed loved ones… are preferred to more blunt ones.
Congratulations – as a human, you know you’re going to die. That’s why you’ve learned some impressive cultural and psychological techniques to cope.
“Death in earnest gives life force as nothing else does; it makes one alert as nothing else does.” When faced by death we suddenly begin to value life and an instinctive self preservation sets in. At times it creates a raised consciousness or awareness.
But a few poets and philosophers throughout history have argued that without death we would be at a loss. It’s the prospect of his coming that gets us out of bed in the morning and drives us to great deeds. Now a growing body of evidence from social psychology suggests that these thinkers are right. People might dream of a deathless civilisation, but without death, there would barely be a civilisation at all.
DEATH gets a bad press. Invariably the unwelcome visitor, arriving too soon, he is feared and loathed: “the last enemy” in the words of the Bible. In Medieval times death was personified as an old skeleton armed with a scythe.
Negative (static) growth,
Written out of the series
Crossed the border (line)
Shuffled off this mortal coil (Hamlet)
Hang up your boots, skates, gloves…
Dealt his last card
Gave up the ghost
Carried out feet first
Gathered to one’s father
Breathe one’s last breath
Go the way of all flesh
Passed in their marbles
Turn up one’s toes
Bite the dust
Sleep, eternal rest, go to your reward
Tossed in the towel
No longer a member of the gene pool
Done their service
At rest, at peace
Euphemisms can create a haze of deceptions, a layer of lies. And this is likely to remain true long after we’ve bought the farm, cashed in our chips, given up the ghost, and, as now, reached the end of the line.
Parents being advised by the geneticist after a pregnancy scam:
- There was no diagnosis; any outcomes would be severe.
- This baby is unviable, basically - the baby is “incompatible with life.”
Verbal tranquilisers #
“Euphemism is especially frequent,” says linguist John Algeo, “when we must come face to face with the less happy facts of our existence.”
Here we consider some of the “verbal tranquilizers” employed to avoid dealing head on with death. Despite what you may have heard, people rarely die in hospitals.
Unfortunately, some patients do “expire” there. And according to hospital records, others experience “therapeutic misadventures” or “negative patient-care outcomes.” However, such mishaps can’t be nearly as disappointing as the patient who has “failed to fulfill his wellness potential.” Most of us, I imagine, would rather die than let down the side in this fashion.
Well, perhaps not die exactly.
We might be willing to “pass on,” like dinner guests who take a pass on dessert. Or “depart,” as we should after a night out. (They’re “no longer with us,” our hosts will say.) Unless, of course, we’ve had a bit too much to drink, and then we might just end up “lost” or “asleep.”
One day, as a medical team was examining a patient, an intern came to the door with information about another patient’s death. Knowing that the word “death” was taboo and finding no ready substitute, the intern stood in the doorway and announced,
“Guess who’s not going to shop at Wal-Mart anymore.”
Soon, this phrase became the standard way for staff members to convey the news that a patient had died. Dying, Death, and Bereavement, ed. by Inge Corless et al. Springer, 2003
A sergeant Major renown for his direct speech was advised to be more gentle when informing soldiers of a death in the family.
One morning on parade he called for all men with fathers to step forward. When Johnson, whose father had died that night, stepped forward, the sergeant snapped –
“not so fast Johnson; back in line!”.
Examples of deception in reporting deaths: #
A respectable family’s uncle was condemned to death by electrocution for a nasty crime. To salvage the family reputation, they negotiated the following media release to make it appear innocuous:
At the time of his death, Uncle Charles occupied the chair of a well connected electrical institution. The ties that bound him to his position were strong indeed. His death came as an extreme shock.
When it became evident that ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s great-great uncle, Remus Rudd, spent time in prison from 1883 and eventually hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Melbourne in 1889, Kevin Rudd’s staff sent back the following biographical sketch:
“Remus Rudd was famous in Victoria during the mid to late 1800s. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Melbourne-Geelong Railroad.
Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad.
In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the Victoria Police Force. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honour when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.”
NOW That’s how it’s done, Folks!
Black humour has a lot of fun at the expense of euphemisms for death:
“we have to ask if this parrot is no more, if ’e has ceased to be, if ’e’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker, if e’s a stiff, bereft of life, if ’e rests in peace, if ‘is metabolic processes are now ‘istory, if ’e’s off the twig, if ’e’s kicked the bucket, if ’e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!”
Crikey.com a parody on Brendon Nelson #
‘E’s not changed direction’! ‘E’s passed on! This leader is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ’e rests in peace! E’s pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ’e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-LEADER!!
Weasel words abound in times of crises, to squirm out of embarrassments or responsibilities, justify questionable actions or defend the indefensible.
Euphemisms for Sex #
The physical union of a man with a woman is the most natural instinctive and powerful of our human urges; a need to express ourselves through procreation. Yet some cultures and religions make us feel shame and even guilt because of this drive.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest manuscripts, the priestess of the Goddess of Love, Shamhat, a sacred prostitute, who offers herself to Enkidu, a wild brutalised man, making love continuously for seven days, taming him that way. Enkidu is transformed by that experience, and becomes socialised, humanised and empathetic.
It’s a kind of anti-Garden of Eden story, or the opposite of that, where instead of sexuality being a fall, it’s an initiation into what it means to be truly human.
Because of our squeamishness of the sexual act we have created a number of alternative ways of describing them:
Love making, Consummation, congress, conjugal rights, coitus, intercourse, vaginal penetration, lay with each other, to know them, sleep together, f*ck, bit of action/fluff, Compromising position, hanky-panky, hokey pokey, affair, scandalous relationship, seeing each other,
*“Hiking the Appalachian Trail” When South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford disappeared for six days in 2009, his aides told reporters he had gone for a walking holiday along the US’s most celebrated hiking route. In fact, it soon transpired Sanford had been with his Argentine mistress in Buenos Aires.
“Discussing Uganda” In 1973, the satirical magazine Private Eye reported that journalist Mary Kenny had been disturbed in the arms of a former cabinet minister of President Obote of Uganda during a party. Variations of “Ugandan discussions” or “discussing Uganda” - the term is believed to have been coined by the poet James Fenton - were subsequently used by the Eye to describe any illicit encounter, and the phrase soon became part of common usage.
“Watching badgers” Ron Davies had already experienced what he called a [“moment of madness”] on London’s Clapham Common in 1998, during which he was mugged. The incident led to his resignation as Welsh Secretary. Then in 2003 The Sun newspaper claimed it had photographed him engaging in a sex act with a stranger at a picnic spot. After initially denying he had ever visited the area, Davies then changed his story and said he had been there [“watching badgers”], a phrase that the tabloid suggested should find its way into the Oxford English Dictionary.
“Slipping my moorings” Innuendo travels quickly in the age of social media. No sooner had former CIA chief David Petraeus apologised in March 2013 for [“slipping my moorings”] by having an affair with his biographer, the [Sunday Times’ Camilla Long tweeted:]
“Best euphemism for illicit sex so far today.”
Other Examples of Euphemisms: #
CHARLIE LEWIS from Crikey.com reports that:
After Elon Musk’s private spaceflight company SpaceX’s Starship rocket celebrated 4/20 by “blazing” itself into smoking ruins shortly after launch last week, the company reached for an interesting phrase. The process the rocket had undergone was not “exploding” but, apparently,
“rapid unscheduled disassembly”
Drunk - Tired and Emotional - getting bladdered at the local,
Sacked - involuntary redundancy/terminated/dismissed
Mine pollution water – Mine water legacy
Cuts to spending - a so-called indexation pause
‘HILLBILLIES’ - You must now refer to them as ‘APPALACHIAN AMERICANS’
HOW TO SPEAK ABOUT ‘WOMEN’ AND BE POLITICALLY CORRECTLY: #
She is not a ‘BABE’ or a ‘CHICK’ - She is a ‘BREASTED AMERICAN’
She is not ‘EASY’ - She is ‘HORIZONTALLY ACCESSIBLE’
She is not a ‘DUMB BLONDE’ - She is a ‘LIGHT-HAIRED DETOUR OFF THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY’
She has not ‘BEEN AROUND’ - She is a ‘PREVIOUSLY-ENJOYED COMPANION’
She does not ‘NAG’ you - She becomes ‘VERBALLY REPETITIVE’
She is not a ‘TWO-BIT HOOKER’ - She is a ‘LOW COST PROVIDER’
HOW TO SPEAK ABOUT MEN AND BE POLITICALLY CORRECT: #
He does not have a ‘BEER GUT’ - He has developed a ‘LIQUID GRAIN STORAGE FACILITY
He is not a ‘BAD DANCER’ - He is ‘OVERLY CAUCASIAN’
He does not ‘GET LOST ALL THE TIME’ - He ‘INVESTIGATES ALTERNATIVE DESTINATIONS’
He is not ‘BALDING’ - He is in ‘FOLLICLE REGRESSION’
He does not act like a ‘TOTAL ASS’ - He develops a case of RECTAL-CRANIAL INVERSION.’
It’s not his ‘CRACK’ showing when he stoops or bends over - It’s ‘TROUSER CLEAVAGE’
Matching EXERCISES: #
Match the euphemisms (Column 1) with their correct meanings (Column 2).
I. industrial stoppage ____encyclopaedia salesman
ripe for development ____imprisonment
family planning ____glutton
glass maintenance engineer ____dirty old man
social services ____sales monopoly
liquid laugh and technicolour yawn ____block of land
task response module ____bureaucracy
homemaker ____available for exploitation
urban renewal ____dole
sexy senior citizen ____women’s toilet
homesite ____drug induced hallucination
new prestige area ____ desk
educational adviser ____vomit
package deal ____window cleaner
Hitler’s ‘final solution’ ____birth control
corrective detention ____slum clearance
administration ____outer suburbs
2O. powder room ____strike
For answers: here:
Answers - Euphemisms Quiz: #
industrial stoppage - strike
ripe for development available for exploitation
family planning - birth control
glass maintenance engineer - window cleaner
social services - dole
6.liquid laugh and technicolour yawn - vomit
- task response module - desk
8, homemaker - housewife
- urban renewal - slum clearance
10 sexy senior citizen - dirty old man
11 homesite - block of land
12 new prestige area - outer suburbs
educational adviser - encyclopaedia salesman
package deal - sales monopoly
15 gourmet - glutton
16 Hitler’s ‘final solution’ - genocide
- corrective detention - imprisonment
18 administration - bureaucracy
- trip - drug induced hallucination
2O powder room - women’s toilet