A Study on English Euphemism

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  • Topic: Euphemism, Taboo, Politeness
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A Study on English Euphemism

Euphemism is defined in Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English(1978)as¡°(an example of)the use of a pleasanter£¬less direct name for something thought to be unpleasant.¡± The New Edition of the Oxford Concise Dictionary (1976) defines euphemism as ¡°Substitution of mild or vague or roundabout expression for harsh or direct one; expression that substituted.¡± Euphemism is to use a polite or vague word or phrase used to replace another word or phrase that is thought of as too direct or rude. The word euphemism comes from the Greek eu, good, and pheme, speech or saying, and thus means literally to speak with good words or in a pleasant manner. 1. Characteristics of Euphemism

Euphemism£¬as a language phenomenon£¬has some special characteristics. To succeed in learning a language£¬learners of the language should pay much attention to the following features of euphemism. 1 .1 Universality

In almost all cultures there are certain things strongly forbidden by social customs. Generally people try to avoid mentioning the taboos directly. When the taboos (the forbidden things)have to be referred to£¬it is likely that people tend to substitute expressions that sound better. So there are euphemisms in almost every language. 1 .2 Culture specificity

The universal existence of euphemism in languages does not mean that euphemisms are identical in different languages. Euphemism has close relevance to culture. Notions and norms upheld by people in different cultures are not necessarily the same. As a result£¬the taboos indifferent cultures are not necessarily the same. What is necessary to be euphemized in one culture may not be necessary to be euphemized in another. For example£¬the questions about age£¬one¡¯s marital status or prices of one¡¯s belongings£¬although inoffensive to Chinese£¬should be avoided when conversing with English-speaking people. Of course£¬different cultures may have certain taboos in common£¬for example£¬the notions of death£¬physical shortcomings£¬old age£¬etc. They are often expressed in euphemistic terms in many languages. We can say that euphemism is culturally specific. 1 .3 Re-symbolism

As we know from the above definitions£¬euphemism is substitution of one expression for another. That is to say£¬euphemism is a re-symbolizing of things£¬ideas£¬or events already symbolized with precision in mind£¬The re-symbolizing produces a distance from the euphemisms to taboo words and as a result£¬it produces a distance from the new expressions to the things£¬ideas£¬or events they refer to. This is the very psychological need of people to use euphemisms. In spite of the distance£¬ephemerons should be relevant to the taboos themselves. That is£¬the re-symbolizing should provide clues to catch the intended meaning of the taboos as the crude expressions do and at the same time£¬should sound indirect or roundabout or pleasanter. 1 .4 Obscurity

Euphemism£¬as a re-symbolizing of things£¬ideas somewhat overlooks precision and leads to semantic obscurity. For example£¬death is the precise word to mean that creatures or plants stop living£¬but people avoid mentioning the term and take pains to substitute it with terms£¬such as depart from the world forever£¬fall asleep£¬pass away, etc£¬although these expressions are indirect and ambiguous; people also tend to use the obscure terms£¬such as senior citizens£¬advanced in age£¬elderly to refer to old. Obscurity is a basic feature of euphemism. Without obscurity£¬euphemisms will lose their euphemistic value. Obscurity is a hallmark of all euphemisms. 1 .5 Beautification

Beautification is another characteristic of euphemism. Generally speaking£¬taboo words sound unpleasant£¬rude and offensive. So people substitute them with euphemisms that sound pleasant£¬polite and harmless. People use euphemism to dress the taboos up with beautiful clothes and reduce the unpleasantness of a term or notion. For example£¬a garbage collector is described...
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