‘E’ is for euphemisms

letter-e-monogram-mdEuphemisms have become more popular in this age of political correctness. It is often easier to use polite or toned down words and expressions to describe something that is distressing or distasteful; and perhaps a little too controversial. We have all used them in one way or another. Maybe we wanted to avoid embarrassment by saying we wanted to “spend a penny” or visit the “bathroom“, “restroom” or simply the “loo“.  When someone dies, we soften the blow in saying they have “passed away“, and if we need to euthanise a much beloved family pet, we have it “put to sleep“. The delicate matter of saying someone was naked is to say we saw them in their “birthday suit” or “au naturale“. And although the subject of sex has become more of an accepted norm in contemporary society, we may still baulk at saying someone had sex, substituting that they “slept together” or any number of imaginative alternatives. The shame of mentioning that someone you know has been jailed or imprisoned is to say that they spent some time in a “correctional centre“, and even the government authority handling prisoners is called the Department of Corrections.

The darker side of euphemisms raises its head when governments and military authorities attempt to reduce the severity of an action in the eyes of the public. They use terms such as “ethnic cleansing” when they mean that they are killing people because of their culture, race and religion. Many men, women and children are often killed as an accidental result of war or battle, but instead of the brutal truth of their unintended slaughter, they are merely dismissed as “collateral damage“. Remember the movie of that name with Arnold Schwarzenegger in which his character’s wife and child are killed by a terrorist’s bomb? A war becomes a “police action” in which the military may refer to a “target rich environment” for buildings, factories etc.

I am sure you can think of many more euphemisms, some more impolite than using the word itself, especially when we refer to those parts of our bodies that we may regard as “dirty” or “naughty“. Former British comedy duo The Two Ronnies were the masters at making fun of euphemisms and puns … but puns are another tale.

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