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Thread: Euphemism

  1. Unregistered

    Angry Euphemism

    As a "non-professional" (I don't teach) English language fan, I ask all the pedagogues to pass on to the world that "ISSUE" is not the same as "PROBLEM".

    Euphemism and evasion are nothing new in language, but this one has developed into a monster in the mouths and pens of the lazy and ignorant.



  2. Editor,
    English Teacher
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    Re: Euphemism

    'Challenging' has acquired a similarly euphemistic meaning too.

  3. rewboss's Avatar

    • Join Date: Feb 2006
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    Re: Euphemism

    I think, though, that calling it a "monster in the mouths and pens of the lazy and ignorant" might be overstating matters.

    Actually, euphemism and evasion are a very important part of what we call "politeness". When we are on the phone to complain about something, we don't say, "It's all your fault!", we say, "There seems to be some misunderstanding," or, "Unless I am mistaken, the instructions say...".

    In the same way, we tend to avoid phrases like, "This isn't working the way it's supposed to work", as it implies that the speaker believes the fault is with the product or the instructions or the manufacturer -- and if the fault in fact turns out to lie with the irate customer after all, this causes embarrassment to all concerned. We therefore avoid any word or phrase which implies fault or shoddy wormanship, and instead say, "I'm having some issues with your product" as being safely neutral and leaving everything open as to where the fault, if any, actually lies.

    This kind of language is then taken up by politicians, who prefer to talk about neutral "issues" -- which are not necessarily their own fault -- rather than "problems" -- a word which implies the politicians are incompetent.

    As these things are wont to do, the euphemism then takes on the meaning of the phrase it is supposed to be a euphemism of. Hardly surprisingly, when we hear and see it being used to mean the same thing pretty much constantly, for reasons of saving face and/or spin.

    This happens all the time. "Bathroom" is used euphemistically to refer to the lavatory, since the lavatory is something that is not mentioned in polite company in order to avoid offence and embarrassment. But "lavatory" itself is a euphemism, and, like "bathroom", simply means "a place for washing". "Lavatory" was used to avoid using the more explicit term "toilet". Yet even "toilet" means nothing more than "washing" (as in "eau de toilette"), and is itself a euphemism. "Bathroom" is a euphemism of a euphemism of a euphemism, but it is not laziness or ignorance that compels us to use this imprecise term. Indeed, virtually all the terms we use -- "loo", "john", "WC", "cloakroom" -- are coy euphemisms.

    Of course, we pedagogues can certainly pass on the message that not all "issues" are "problems", but we're up against the establisment on this one, and language will continue its march of constant change no matter what we do.

    Incidentally, I would dispute that "challenge" is a euphemism. It's almost the opposite of a euphemism, in that it is actually intended to make something humdrum sound more exciting: it's hyperbole. More than that, though, it's become a marketing cliché.

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