A Discussion on Euphemism

December 3, 2016 Commerce

Euphemism plays a very important role in coordinating social relations and is a common phenomenon in human languages though the expressions of euphemism vary in different races, times. The word ???euphemism??? which refers to good speech originates from Greek. It is a kind of rhetoric. In euphemism, people tend to use pleasant, implicit, polite and elegant words or phrases instead of the vulgar, disturbing and direct ones. In other words, people would rather use better-sounding names than call a spade a spade. For example, doctors may be quite direct to a retarded boys parents, but his relatives and teachers would possibly say in a polite manner ???The child is simply ???a bit slow for his age??™.??? Next are the fields which euphemism is frequently referred to.
A. Euphemism in life
1. Death and disease. In Chinese culture, people talk more about living and avoid using the word ???death???. In countries like UK and the USA, people, though they do not consider it as a complete taboo, will choose euphemistic expressions such as pass away, fall asleep, and pay the debt of nature. The words to replace diseases are also widely used, such as the big C and long illness to represent cancer.
2. Excretion. People often use ???monthly period??? or say:???I??™m having my friend with me.??? instead of mentioning menses directly. In formal occasions, it is rather offensive and makes people feel awkward if one just shouts out:???I want to have a piss!??? Actually, even the milder ???move the bowels??? or ???make water??? are not common in use. Expressions like ???use the bathroom???, ???answer a call of nature??? are more acceptable and popular.
3. Age and figure. In contrast to Chinese people, westerners are unwilling to accept that they are getting older; therefore, the euphemisms about oldness are plentiful, for instance, past one??™s prime, senior citizen, and golden ager. As to figure, westerners tend to use ???plain???, ???ordinary??? to replace the offensive ???ugly???. When saying that someone is quite thin, they often use ???slim??? rather than ???skinny???.
B. Euphemism in social phenomenon
1. Poverty and unemployment. The poor do not want to be looked down upon and the society has the obligation to offer the poor some comfort. One American girl once described herself as following: I used to think I was poor. Then they told me I wasn??™t poor; I was needy. Then they said it was self-defeating to think of myself as need, that I was culturally deprived. Then they told me that deprived was a bad image, that I was underprivileged. Then they told me that underprivileged was overused, that I was disadvantaged. I still don??™t have a dime. But I have a great vocabulary! This self-description depicts vividly of the possible euphemisms to represent ???poor???. The reason for the use of euphemism in unemployment is similar. The phrase ???get the walking ticket??? obviously sounds better than ???You??™re fired!???
2. Vocations. Though all vocations serve to contribute to the development of the society, there is no denying in the fact that some are considered or felt to be sort of low. In order to show respect to those workers, there are some decent titles to their job. There are many examples, calling the technical staff ???engineers???, garbage collector ???sanitation engineer???, tree trimmer ???tree surgeon??? and secretary ???administrative assistant???.
C. Euphemism in commerce. Nowadays consumers are becoming more and more rational in buying goods and actually the quality gap between different brands is narrowing. So when advertising or promoting their products, the companies are extremely careful in choosing words. They will avoid use the unpleasant words. In America, a lady often encounters the ???Queen Size??? when she is buying the pantyhose. Actually, it is a size designed for the fat ones. Here the word ???Queen??? is a euphemism for ???fat???. Another example is the use of words in the service industry. There are three classes of cabin in a plane. To appeal to passengers, the words are ???deluxe class???, ???economy class??? and ???tourist class??? instead of using ???the first-class cabin???, ???the second-class cabin??? and ???the third-class cabin???.
D. Euphemism in politics and military. If other types of euphemisms are used to avoid taboos, the purposes of using euphemisms in political and military fields are mostly to blur or even falsify the truth. A typical example is the use of ???-gate??? to represent the scandal of celebrities. It starts from the ???Watergate scandal??? in the United States which refers to a political scandal in the 1970s. The scandal finally led to the resignation of the president of USA, Nixon. Afterwards, there have been a lot of other ???-gates??? such as ???Iran-gate???, ???Zip-gate???, ???Intelligence-gate??? and the ???Camilla-gate???. There are just so many gates! The euphemisms in military are generally to cover the misdoings of the army and cheat the people so that the authorities can win the support. Therefore, the graceful words used are seemingly harmonious but in essence evil. What a satire it is that the USA calls its ???War Department??? as ???Defense Department??? and prettifies ???air attack??? as ???air support???. Some country even shamelessly calls ???invasion??? as ???liberation???.
From the above fields of frequently-used euphemisms we can see the functions of euphemism from the following perspectives:
1. To avoid mentioning something concerning taboos. Here taboos refer to the obscene, vulgar, profane and ominous words. For example, when a woman is pregnant, people will not be so vulgar to state it directly; they will use ???Now she is eating for two.??? or ???She is in the family way.??? instead. For another example, the words like mortuary or cemetery would make the already heart-broken people who just lost their close relatives or friends feel even worse. This is why in UK and the America, people prefer to choosing expressions like ???funeralhome???, ???memorial park??? or ???resting place???.
2. To show politeness and respect to others. This function is often reflected in interpersonal communication. Sometimes if one cannot avoid talking about the things that might hurt the other one, he will use euphemisms to avert the rudeness. For instance, when talking to a disabled person, one may use such words as sight-deprived, hard of hearing instead of directly mentioning ???handicapped???.
3. Being deceptive by covering up or prettifying the truth. This function refers to mostly the tricks played in the fields of politics, military or even commerce. In my words as it may say that some politicians, military officers, journalists and businessmen are utilizing euphemism as a tool to avert people??™s attention from the essential problems.
All in all, whether for better or for worse, euphemism is a linguistic phenomenon that has been widely used in our society. With the continuous and harmonious development of the modern world, euphemism will further influence people??™s lives. Also, in intercultural communication, people in one nation are supposed to understand the common euphemisms of another culture so as to establish a lasting and stable relationship with another nation.


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