Euphemisms in Modern English

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  • Topic: Political correctness, Taboo, Euphemism
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Masaryk University Brno Faculty of Education
Department of English Language and Literature

Euphemisms

Brno 2012

Author: Mgr. Kristýna Šebková

Supervisor: Mgr. Radek Vogel, PhD.

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Acknowledgements I would like to thank my supervisor Mgr. Radek Vogel, Ph.D. for revising my thesis and his helpful and friendly attitude. 2

Declaration I hereby declare that this paper is completely my own work and that I used only the sources listed in the bibliography.

.............................................................. 25 July 2012 3

Annotation This paper aims to outline the bright and the dark side of euphemizing. In the increasingly complicated, globalised society, there is a rising tendency to avoid speaking directly about sensitive topics. In this atmosphere, a disturbing question arises: is the widespread overuse of euphemisms undermining our ability to recognize euphemisms used as a tool of manipulation by politicians and the media? The main focus of this thesis is exploring the use of euphemisms in public discourse and discussing the way they alter our perception of inconvenient truths.

Key words Euphemisms, political correctness, doublespeak.

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CONTENTS

1. Introduction…………………………………………………………… 6 2. Formation of euphemisms……………………………………… 8 3. Why we need to euphemize…………………………….……. 9 3.1 A euphemizing instinct……………………………………… 9 3.2 The euphemism treadmill………………………………. 10 3.3 Motives for euphemizing………………………………… 12 4. Most commonly euphemized topics……………………… 15 4.1 Religious terms ………………………………………………. 15 4.2 Death and illness…………………………………………….. 15 4.3 Sex………………………………………………………………….. 18 5. Doublespeak: The dark side of euphemisms…………. 27 5.1 Political correctness……………………………………….. 27 5.2 Doublespeak……………………………………………………. 30 5.3 Fighting back……………………………………………………. 35 6. Conclusion……………………………………………………………. 37 Works cited………………………………………………………………. 39

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1. INTRODUCTION Euphemism is usually defined as “the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant. The origin of this word is Greek euphēmismos, from euphēmos auspicious, sounding good, from eu- + phēmē speech, from phanai to speak.” (Webster 428) Therefore, it may be natural to assume that euphemizing serves good purposes and the speakers use euphemisms with honest intentions, when their aim is not to hurt or offend someone. However, this paper will show that using euphemistic expressions is much more complicated than that. As various articles, comments or blogs suggest, people are increasingly sensitive to avoiding naming things directly. This trend may have resulted from so-called doublespeak, i.e. a term that William Lutz uses to describe “language designed to evade responsibility, make the unpleasant appear pleasant, the unattractive appear attractive. Basically, it is language that pretends to communicate, but really does not. It is language designed to mislead, while pretending not to.” (Lutz “Doublespeak”) What is more, the reasons why people euphemize keep changing, together with the topics avoided, and the words used to allude to such topics indirectly. Bearing in mind the well-known metaphor that language is the vehicle of thought, one can learn a lot about a society, its knowledge, culture and values by studying euphemisms. As Keyes (30) observes, “Words originally were not considered distinct from what they named.” The superstitious need not to utter certain words that described e.g. evil spirits or things considered sacred is still echoed today in idioms or proverbs, such as “touch/knock on wood“ or “speak of the devil…”. However, it is very difficult to avoid speaking about unpleasant issues completely. That is why people have always felt the urge to find a way to speak about phenomena they feared, disliked, worshipped or considered taboo, while not naming them directly. Taking this into consideration, it could be concluded that attempts to use euphemisms are as...
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