Meanings: “Euphemism”

January 14, 2012

“Euphemism comes from the Greek euphemismos: “use of a favorable word in place of an inauspicious one. Put another way, it’s a form of lying, for purposes of being more pleasant.

In “Making Murder Respectable,” the editors of The Economist survey euphemisms from around the world.  For example,

American euphemisms are in a class of their own, principally because they seem to involve words that few would find offensive to start with, replaced by phrases that are meaninglessly ambiguous: bathroom tissue for lavatory paper, dental appliances for false teeth, previously owned rather than used, wellness centres for hospitals, which conduct procedures not operations. As the late George Carlin, an American comedian, noted, people used to get old and die. Now they become first preelderly, then senior citizens and pass away in a terminal episode or (if doctors botch their treatment) after a therapeutic misadventure. These bespeak a national yearning for perfection, bodily and otherwise.

Also covered are euphemisms from Great Britain, China, Japan and Russia.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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