As noted in last week’s post, we employ euphemisms for myriad reasons, usually to make the topic of conversation less offensive to delicate ears. Though we tend to think of euphemisms as tools of the squeamish Victorians, modern. euphemisms abound.
During the Vietnam War, reporters discussed loss of life in terms of soldiers or men. Today, the less-human term troop is in usage.
What my grandmother called rubbish, my generation called trash or garbage. Today it has become waste. We hauled that historic rubbish & trash off to the dump. Today’s waste ends up in the landfill (& in some communities, the transfer station). How very sanitary.
Yesterday’s tombstone is today’s grave marker.
Yesterday’s life jacket has become a personal flotation device.
Yesterday’s looting & stealing can now be called self-provisioning.
But euphemisms started long before the modern day, or even the Victorian era. The word cemetery (which came to English from Greek in the late 1300s) is actually a euphemism for the more honest word graveyard. Cemetery means sleeping place – a Greek term first applied to graveyards sometime in the first century.
Euphemisms can also be tools for the advancement of capitalism.
Sales of what was once called Patagonian toothfish skyrocketed when it became Chilean sea bass. The same thing happened when muttonfish was re-named snapper and when the dolphin fish took on the moniker mahi mahi. And imagine the complete surprise of fish salespeople all over the world when the newly named orange roughy sold like crazy. Whyever were sales so low with its old name, slime head?
Good readers, go forth and euphemize (and if you have anything to say about all this, please leave a comment or two).
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: OED, Etymonline, English Word Information,Ralph Keyes’ Euphemania, & Wordnik
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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