Euphemania: Show Me the Liquidity
an excerpt by Ralph Keyes
Euphemisms are an accurate barometer of changing attitudes. Verbal evasions put a spotlight on what most concerns human beings at any given time. This is as true today as it was when the Victorians considered legs too titillating to be mentioned by name. (Limbs was the preferred synonym.) Things concern us that didn’t concern them, however. An explosion of topics has become eligible for euphemistic discourse: not just the usual suspects of sex, body parts, and bodily secretions but disability, death, and anything that has to do with money.
When the editors of a collection of personal essays about money had trouble recruiting contributors, they approached a man who’d already written about his drug addiction and nervous breakdown. Surely this author would have no difficulty writing about money. He did. The writer begged off, confessing that there was no way he could discuss the subject candidly.
He is not alone. Money is one of our most taboo topics. I know many more people who will tell me about their sex lives, their loneliness, or their fear of dying than will reveal how much they earn, own, and owe. Therapists commonly find that nothing is harder for patients to talk about than money. In a survey of women’s attitudes, Ms. magazine discovered that those polled considered money “the ultimate intimacy,” more difficult to deal with openly than sex.