Euphemisms aren’t going anywhere. We still use them for war, weight, and vaginas. The euphemism-word ratio in romance novels is too much trouble to calculate. But euphemisms change with society; old euphemisms are now everyday words (spend) and once-ordinary words (intercourse) are now uncomfortable letter arrangements.
Author Ralph Keyes wrote Euphemania: Our Love Affair With Euphemisms, the latest book on the polite way putting things. I scoured through an excerpt for some new meanings on old words.
* Eligibility: Now a word we commonly use for single, eligibility used to reference a man’s status and wealth.
* Intercourse: Originally, “intercourse” referred to any kind of interaction between people. Like, “I saw Adam at the store today and we had intercourse.”
* Occupy: Once a risqué word, occupy was a synonym for sex, but has since become innocuous. Keyes points out that “hook up” is currently undergoing the same rehabilitation.
* Spend: Ejaculate. This is amusing because ejaculate is such a clinical word — who uses it besides doctors and researchers? At the same time, I can imagine a 19th-century doctor asking a woman if her husband spent himself when having trouble conceiving.
* Insulted, Outraged, Forced attentions: Rape. It’s sad, because these words play the act down, but I do like this story Keyes explains it with. In 1878 a woman “told a military hearing that she was ‘insulted’ several times” by her captors and it was “outrageous treatment.” Then the officer asked, “‘Am I to understand that they outraged you several times at night?’ she responded ‘Yes, sir.'”
* Unlawful familiarity, criminal conversation, and mutual dalliances for pleasure’s sake: Obviously, these are for affairs. “Criminal conversation” was when a husband brought charges to his wife’s younger lover. The trials were so sensational, otherwise self-respecting Britons followed their press like soap operas.
* Think of England: Dutiful sex within marriage during the Victorian period. It was so popular, people thought it came straight from Queen Victoria, but that’s unlikely. If you saw The Young Victoria, you know she was anything but dutiful.
Do you know of any I’m missing?
– Colleen Barrett