Monday, January 07, 2002

Language as Obfuscation

Euphemism--while the word comes from the Greek for "good speaking," these days it more often refers to a word or phrase intended to soften reality, cover up something embarrassing or divert attention from the "reality" of a situation. Indeed, Oxford College of Emory University's Dr. Kent Linville, referred to euphemisms as "linguistic fig leaves." The following euphemisms appeared in email from readers of the A Word A Day service, a.k.a AWAD. The word "euphemism" had figured in a message the previous week, and it triggered quite a flood of "me too" messages about favorite euphemisms.

From the "A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage" by Bergen and Cornelia Evans, 1957: "The opposite of euphemism is dysphemism. If it is plain talk to call a spade a spade and a euphemism to call it a delving instrument, it is a dysphemism to call it a bloody shovel."

In Edward Albee's play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" when George wants Martha to help their guest Honey to the bathroom, he says "Show her where we keep the euphemism."

How about "urban outdoorsman" for a homeless person, "yesterday's fresh" for day-old pastries, or "vintage" or the even better "previously new" for used or old.

In some legal circles, it is said that when a person dies, their estate "matures". Worse yet, emergency medical technicians use the acronym ART for such people, indicating that the person is "Assuming Room Temperature"!

At Three Mile Island, they apparently had an "unscheduled energetic disassembly" not an "explosion".

No comments: