How to phrase this in a family newspaper?
This book is about saying what we mean without being lewd or crude while still being shrewd.
Prolific American author Ralph Keyes has a love of language — his 15 books include the provocatively titled I Love It When You Talk Retro — and he certainly has the ability to separate the buckwheat from the
He defines a euphemism as “words or phrases substituted for ones that make us uneasy.” The word itself comes from the Greek — “good speaking.”
Books on the English language run the risk of being lists without sufficient context or academic jargon. Keyes avoids both those pitfalls, although his bibliography is 17 pages for those who wish to pursue the topic (and bore their friends and acquaintances).
It is tempting to smirk at the Victorians’ use of “inexpressibles” for trousers and “an interesting condition”
for pregnancy. But a little reflection brings home clearly that we have our own current euphemisms —”disabled” for the previously used crippled, and the myriad terms that have followed.
The pages of this very Free Press no doubt feature a variety of slipperiness from politicians — our ads are “contrast ads,” our opponent’s are “attack ads.”
Each reader will have his favourite section, depending on interest or squeamishness. Keyes covers such topics as food — why eat squid when you can call it calamari? — war (“robust interrogation” for torture) and the always popular topics of sex, death and secretions.
Much to Keyes’s credit, there are a number of LOL moments — laugh out loud, not to be confused with the medical profession’ s blackly humorous acronym for little old lady.
Indeed, the medical euphemisms in the chapter Under the Weather and In the Ground are worth the price of the book to prepare you for your next extended visit to the hospital.
DDD stands for “definitely done dancing,” while GFPO means “good for parts only.”
Keyes started his investigation thinking euphemisms were genteel ways of avoiding unpleasantness and they could be clearly separated from slang, jargon and double entendres. His book convinces that that’s too narrow a view.
Adding to the value of Euphemania is Keyes’ s discussion of words that move from genteel substitute to unacceptable,”‘ Cherry’ was once considered more respectable than ‘ hymen,’ ” Keyes writes. “Now, just the opposite is true.”
Business and political euphemisms have blossomed in our time, suggesting to Keyes that these are the subjects that most concern us. He also believes that we have a deep-seated primitive need to avoid direct speech.
Our ancestors avoided naming the animals they hunted. We avoid the blunt words that refer to death or the sexual terms that can fracture a marriage or relationship (fill in your own term here).
The blunter the language, the more likely it has an Anglo-Saxon root. The more Latin gets involved, the more likely you will speak in euphemisms.
Are all euphemisms bad? Keyes argues no. At worst they are tools for manipulation. As he puts it, “Too much euphemizing fosters an evasive frame of mind, one that tiptoes around issues rather than confronting them.” And an overreliance on them can cloud thought, make problems harder to solve.
On the other hand, no one wants to hear a blunt stream of language in conversation, or on the bus. We accommodate, we oil the wheels of dealing with one another, keeping in mind that there is no satisfactory euphemism to the question “Does my bum look fat in this?”
– Ron Robinson