There is a humor: Once a Paris tourist resided in UK. A landlady told him sadly that, “My husband has just passed to the other side.” The guest looked from the fence of the garden but saw no one, feeling confused. The landlady explained: “I mean he’s kicked the bucket.” The guest comforted her that: “I hope his foot will be better soon.” The landlady felt unintelligibly and said: “No, he wasn’t here, he snuffed it… you know.” The guest wondered and said: “But you’ve got electricity here.” The reasons why the guest didn’t answer properly are that he didn’t realize that the landlady used euphemism, nor did he understand the “conversational implicative” of euphemism. What the landlady wanted to say is that her husband died. The word euphemism comes from the Greek word “euphemism”, meaning “auspicious/good/fortunate speech” which in turn is derived from the Greek root— words eu, “good/well” + pheme, “speech/speaking”. The euphemism was originally a word or phrase used in place of a religious word or phrase that should not be spoken aloud (Such as taboo).
The primary examples of taboo words requiring the use of a euphemism are the unspeakable names for a deity, such as Persephone, Hecate, Nemesis or Yahweh. By speaking only words favorable to the gods or spirits, the speaker attempted to produce good fortune by remaining in good favor with them.” Euphemism is defined in the New Edition of the Oxford Concise Dictionary (1976) as ‘Substitution of mild or vague or roundabout expression for harsh or direct one; expression thus substituted.’ IN Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1973) the definition reads, ‘Substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant.’” Euphemism is an important rhetorical means in English. It plays an important role in people’s daily communication. It is not only a cultural phenomenon, but also a social phenomenon. It just likes a mirror, which reflects some social and psychological phenomena. 2. Features of euphemism2.1 Indirect and implicit The most important character of euphemism is indirect and implicit. Euphemism always gives people hints in a roundabout way. We can infer the deeper meaning and intention from the context. For example, when someone is ill, we always say he is under the weather.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people? These two questions have bewildered mankind throughout the centuries. Even the greatest philosophers and theologians have yet to develop a concrete answer. Philosophers, theologians, and even religious leaders have developed many hypotheses. Some of these hypotheses support each other while others conflict. It is for ...
If someone is mad, we say he is soft in mind.2.2 Universality Universality is something that is well-known and accepted by all of the people. Though euphemism is indirect and it doesn’t come straight to the point, people can easily infer its deeper implication. Some taboos connected with sex, death, or body functions are replaced by euphemisms. And the public has accepted this kind of use. For example, when we refer to death, we seldom say “die”. We use the expression “pass away”.2.3 The feature of times The changes of language depend on the need and changes of the society. And euphemism undergoes a process of metabolism. It bears a marked brand of times. For example, “‘She is pregnant’ has many different euphemistic expressions in different eras.(1) She has canceled all her social engagements. (1856)(2) She is in an interesting condition. (1880)(3) She is in a delicate condition. (1895)(4) She is knitting little bootees. (1910)(5) She is in a family way. (1920)(6) She is expecting. (1935)(7) She is pregnant. (1956)”  But after 1960s, euphemisms of pregnant develop slowly because in modern times, people are not so implicit. They always mention things directly. And now, the phenomenon of pregnant is a cheerful thing.
People will not be shy when mentioning it. “The word ‘gay’, at first, it means happy and homosexuality. But as euphemism develops, the word ‘gay’ only reminds us the meaning of homosexuality. Thus, people don’t use the expression ‘We are young and gay.’” 2.4 Regional feature In euphemism, there are some regional differences. An Australian woman married to an American man. They spent their honeymoon in America. And one day, the couple intended to go to a party together. But the bridegroom couldn’t find a suitable full dress. The bride took out a birthday suit that she gave him as a present few days ago and said: “Why not wear your birthday suit?” However, the whole family all astonished because in American English, “in one’s birthday suit”  is the euphemistic expression of “naked”. So this embarrassing situation resulted from the regional differences in euphemism. There are two causes of regional differences. First is a regional cultural difference. In different regions, the culture there will effect the development of euphemism. For example, “go to w.c.”. In the Balliol college of Oxford University, students call “‘go to toilet’ as ‘to visit Lady Periam’” because the toilets of that college were built on the land donated by Lady Periam.
Essay - Self-expression Self-expression is a way in which a person can express his or her thought processes through hand gestures, writing and verbalization. The Websters Dictionary defines it as expression of ones own personality or emotion. Sometimes, people use hand gestures when they are trying to express a point. Usually, the person doesnt realize that they are moving their hands. Another way ...
Of course, Americans will not agree with this expression.” Second is the difference of geographic environment. For example, in seaside, death would be connected with sea and tide. They may use ‘go with the tide’ to express die. On the contrary, in American west mountain areas, the euphemism for die is ‘(gone) over the range’ or ‘to cross the Great Divide’. These are the typical regional euphemisms.” 2.5 Diversity of lingual region Someone thinks that only upper and middle class use euphemism. But this conclusion is too absolute. We can analyze this in three aspects.2.5.1 Differences of gender or age” A study shows that female use more euphemisms than male do. There is a saying in English: ‘horse sweat; men perspire; young ladies glow.’ (Brock, 1973:73) Women use obscure word to express the action of sweat. And the difference of gender and age usually influence the choice of the synonyms of euphemism. For instance, there are a variety of expressions about ‘go to toilet’. Men use the expression ‘to shoot a lion’. Adults may say ‘to go to w.c.’. And children say ‘to go to the pot’.” 2.5.2 Difference of profession or identity Euphemism changes while the profession and identity change.
This is a synchrony variation. The word “die” can be used in many different ways. “In military, people use the expression ‘to lose number of one’s mess’. This expression orients from the mess system of UK navy. However, in the press, people often use the word ‘thirty’ because they usually mark ‘30’ in the end of a news article, which means ending.” 2.5.3 Difference of style or context Stylistically, the word “die” has hundreds of euphemisms. But in daily communication, people may use “to be gone” or “to be no more”. In obituary, people use “to pass away” or “to depart”. It also has some witty expressions, for instance, “to pop off” or “to kick the bucket”. Euphemism is restricted by the context. For example, “On the 14th of March, at a quarter to three in the afternoon, the greatest living thinker ceased to think. (F. Engel’s, Speech at the Graveside of Karl Marx)”  This example involves the passing away of a great man. And the phrase “ceased to think” echoes “thinker”. This euphemism produces a good effect. 3. Pragmatic functions of euphemism3.1 Taboo function” Taboo is the main psychological basis of the emergence of euphemism. Euphemism is the avoidance of the unpleasant, inelegant things.
Aphasia Aphasia What is Aphasia? Aphasia is the impairment of spoken or written language caused by injury to the brain. It is also commonly referred to as Dysphasia. There are several different categories and many different types of Aphasia. What causes Aphasia? Aphasia is usually the result of a brain tumor, lesion, stroke, or severe blow to the head. Right-handed people can only acquire Aphasia ...
A famous sociolinguist Mr. Chen Yuan once said: ‘Generally speaking, the coming into being of euphemism all begins from taboo.’ From the origin of euphemism, we can see that taboo is the first function of euphemism. Euphemism has been using for a long time, and it is closely related to taboo. In fact, euphemism dates back to the language taboo in the early period of human civilization. When people try to avoid and give up taboo words, they have to find another word to replace this vacancy at the same time. Hence, people created euphemism.” There are some taboo things, such as birth, death, funeral, sex, nakedness, defecation, and urinate. If they are expressed directly, they are called taboo words and the feelings they give us are vulgar, crude and harsh, whereas if they are expressed indirectly, they are called euphemism, and the impressions they made on us are elegant, implicit and polite. The evading function of euphemism also works today. Some taboo notions cannot be easily removed from people’s mind. Though science and technology are highly developed today, the word “death” is the taboo words to all nations. Thus there are a lot of euphemisms related with it. “Such as pass away, answer the final call, be asleep in Jesus, be safe in the arms of Jesus, be at rest, be called to God, be home and free, be in Abraham’s bosom, cross the River Jordan, final sleep, go home, go to meet one’s maker, go to one’s own place, join one’s ancestors, join the great majority, return to dust, with God, be no longer with us, pay the debt of nature, tick the bucket, etc.”  “Among those, ‘one-way-ticket’ is the synonym of ‘die’. It reflects the speaker’s experience of life. Life is just like travel. People set out to travel, but when they arrive to the termination, they cannot go back. In the past, people often used graveyard to express the place where the dead sleep peacefully. But the associations it gives us are horrified and gloomy. So now, people use funeral home and memorial park to replace them. In such a way, it comforts people.” 3.2 Polite function Polite function of euphemism is to avoid inelegant things and make people feel pleasant. As Joanna Channel put in her book Vague Language “Vagueness is used as one way of adhering to the politeness rules for a particular culture, and of not threatening face.”  It means that in real life, when people meet with some unpleasant things or behaviors, they usually choose some vague expressions to avoid making bold or hurting other’s feeling—-to use euphemism. It is harsh to say someone is deaf, so people use “auditory-impaired” to replace it. They sound more gracefully. “When English-speakers refer to the appearance, they don’t use the word ‘ugly’ or ‘awful’, which has strong derogatory sense. Instead, they use the word ‘plain-looking’ or ‘not pretty’.”  Westerners are sensitive to age. In their opinion, “old” equals to “useless” in some extent. In order not to hurt the feeling and self-esteem of the old, “old men” are replaced by “senior citizens” or “seasoned men”. For the word “senior” has many meanings. Except “older”, it also means higher in rank or authority. And the word “seasoned” means experienced. “Following are some euphemisms about profession.”  Harsh expression euphemism butcher Meat technologist Chimney worker Chimney consultant fireman Fire fighter Garbage man Sanitation engineer hairdresser Hair stylist housekeeper Household executive Press-agent Public relation counselor Prison guard Correctional officer3.3 Covering up function In Vagueness Language, Channell stated covering up function as deliberately withholding information. What is so called “cover up” means “not giving information which the speaker possesses and which could be appropriate in the situation.”  Western political life gives birth to euphemism. Some politicians and news Medias have made good use of the vagueness of euphemism to cover up the facts of some events for the purpose of making the politics, economy, and military more steady. Concealing the dark side of society is to alleviate the social contradictions caused by sex, violence, poverty, unemployment, and crime. There are some euphemisms about social phenomena. “Venereal disease” has been beautified as “social disease”. “Rape”, a kind of crime, is mentioned casually as “interfere with”; “prostitution became a high-sounding profession——‘the oldest profession in the world’.”  In politicians’ view, violence is a kind of action and dismissal is also “lay off”. People don’t need to be surprised at these phenomena. In western countries, politicians create some political euphemisms to serve their political goals. They try to conceal the facts as to ease the tense relations between other countries and reassure and pacify public’s anti-war emotions. For example, In Vietnam War, Gulf war, or Iraqi war, a number of euphemisms emerged to gloss over the horror and cruelty of war and contemptible diplomatic means. “Following is a chart about military euphemisms.”  Horrific expression Euphemism air strike air option bombing and blasting softening up the resistance civilian casualties collateral damage defense crushed defense neutralized ground war ground operation invasion pre-emptive action missile Vehicle nuclear bomb nuclear device retreat strategic withdrawal suicidal attack one-way mission warhead payload There are also some euphemisms about economy. “People use ‘depression’ instead of ‘economic crises’. The word ‘Striking’ has been beautified as ‘industrial action’.”  and when people mentioned slum, they often use “substandard housing” to replace it. “The euphemisms here are in the true sense of the word “false.” They are used to cover up the true nature of events, deceiving the public with nice-sounding and pseudo technical words.”  3.3 Covering up function Sometimes, people use euphemism to make their statement more persuasive. Thus the cosmetic words have a special communicative function, which is called inducing function. As Channell has analyzed in the discussion of the communicative functions of vague language that “A specific setting where speakers may withhold information which they know is where they feel that they can be more persuasive by doing so.”  Euphemism has been widely applied in advertisement and sales promotion activities. Some airline companies divided the grades of passenger compartments into four ranks. They used “deluxe” or “premium class” to replace “first class”. And the “second class” is transformed into “first class”. The “third class” is revised as “business class” or “tourist class”. They sound more pleasing. The rooms of hotel are also compartmentalized in the same way. They can be divided as first class, standard and private. Those words are sweet sounding and have nothing to do with customers’ self-esteem. Also, “‘antiques’ is the substitution of ‘second-hand furniture’.”  In the merchants’ eye, the former will make the price higher. People often use “compact car” to replace “small car”. Though their meanings are the same, “small” will be associated with an image of cheap and bad while “compact” emphasizes the image of artistic, delicate, and terse. Those euphemisms desalinate the unpleasant feeling that the former concepts give us and intensify a feeling of more reliable and elegant. As a result, those products will be identified with the consumers and achieved the promotion goal. “From the pragmatic view, the achieving of inducing function is caused by the glorification of the intrinsic meaning.”  3.5 Tactical function If a same meaning is expressed in many different ways, their effects are entirely different. This is what we called the art of speaking. If we apply this strategy to our daily life, our life will be more colorful. For example, on the plane, there are some bags that can be used by the passengers to shoot his cookies. People don’t print the words “vomit bag” on the surface of the bag. Instead, they use the words “for motion discomfort”.  And the result proved that the vomit phenomenon has reduced. Because compared with the former words, the word “for motion discomfort” prevents the passengers from vomiting when in a state of airsickness. This is the tactical function of euphemism. By contrary, if we use euphemism inappropriately, the result would be worse. Try to compare the following two statements:(9) I am an old cripple, drawing an old-age pension, working hard to raise vast quantities of vegetables on an allotment and well aware that, one of these days, I shall die.(10) If, however, I listen to the voice of officialdom, it turns out that I am a disadvantaged senior citizen, registered as disabled, drawing a retirement pension, renting a leisure garden and, presumably, immortal because I shall never die— I shall merely pass away. We can see that in the first statement, the author talks directly about his life status. The second statement is that the government officials make a survey of the hardship of citizens. They try to cover the facts by using euphemisms. 3.6 Humor function Jocular euphemism has been used to help people face the fact more easily. For example, people use “push up daisies” to take place of “be buried” because the former words can reduce people’s horror towards death. And “be sent into prison” is replaced by “live at government’s expense”. This expression is witty. Another example, “after three days in Japan, the spinal column becomes extraordinarily flexible.” Its implicature is that in Japan, people are very polite. They usually bow many times a day to greet someone.4. Euphemism and politeness4.1 Euphemism and interpersonal communication Euphemism has been widely used in the real human communication. It can be regarded as a kind of polite terms .In primitive and traditional society, taboo and euphemism are the two sides of a coin. They are used for social control and religious control. And in modern English, there are a number of words connected with holy, sex, body organ and body function. So when people’s topic refers to those, they have to find euphemisms to replace them. They often use some vague language to avoid mentioning them directly.4.2 Politeness and face-threatening theory the main function of euphemism is polite function. Thus, the main character of euphemism is polite. Politeness plays an important role in human communication. It oils human relationships. So euphemism accords with politeness will accelerate human communication.4.2.1 The definition and features of politeness” We view politeness as one of the major social constrains on human interaction which regulates participants’ communicative behavior by constantly reminding them to take into consideration the feelings of the others. It is necessary to consider their feelings so as to establish levels of mutual comfort and promote rapport, which in turn accelerate and facilitate human communication.”  The final goal of politeness is to make all of the parties relaxed and comfortable with one another. There are two kinds of politeness: one is negative politeness; the other is positive politeness. Negative politeness is to make a less infringing request, such as “If you don’t mind…” or “If it isn’t too much trouble…” or respects a person’s right to act freely. In other words, it’s deference. Positive politeness is to seek to establish a positive relationship between parties and respects a person’s need to be liked and understood. 4.2.2 Face-threatening theory Face is defined as an individual’s self-esteem. “Based on the face notion of Goffman that “face” is a sacred thing for every human being, an essential factor communicators have to pay attention to, and that face wants are reciprocal (if one wants his face cared for, he should care for other people’s face).”  According to Brown and Levinson, nearly all speech acts are face-threatening acts. There are two kinds of face: one is Positive Face; the other is Negative Face.“Positive Face refers to our need to be accepted and liked by others and our need to feel that our social group shares common goals. Positive Politeness orients to preserving the positive face of other people. When we use positive politeness we use speech strategies that emphasize our solidarity with the hearer, such as information pronunciation, shared dialect or slang expressions, nicknames, more frequent reference to speaker and hearer as “we”, and requests which are less indirect. Negative Face refers to our right to independence of action and our need not to be imposed on by others. Negative Politeness orients to preserving the negative face of other people. This is much more likely if there is a social distance between the speaker and the hearer. When we use negative politeness, we use speech strategies that emphasize our deference for the hearer. Nicknames, slang and informal pronunciation tend to be avoided and requests tend to be more indirect and impersonal, often involving could you… or could I ask you to… or even referring to the hearer in the third person.”  4.2.3 The relationship between politeness and face want Face refers to our public self-image. Politeness involves us showing an awareness of other people’s face want. In our interpersonal communication, we should pay attention to other’s face want. In the field of education, teacher has to deal with the relations with the students. There are some euphemisms about education. For example, if a student is lazy, we don’t call him “lazy student”. Instead, we call him “underachiever”. If a student cheats in class, we regard it that he depends on others to do his work. “And if a student is quarter-witted and he usually gets a low mark in the exams, we don’t call him stupid. So when the teacher talks with the child’s parents, the teacher would say: ‘Your child is a bit slow for his age.’”  He says the fact in a roundabout way so it will not hurt the parents’ and the child’s self-esteem. It is a face-saving strategy. In short, in people’s daily communication, they have to be polite to save each other’s face and make their relations more harmoniously. They can achieve this goal by using euphemisms because they are sweet-sounding. And this is the polite function of euphemism. 5. Euphemism and Politeness Principle From the above, we know that euphemism has something to do with politeness. We can associate politeness with Politeness Principle.5.1 Leech’s politeness principle “Generally speaking, most of the euphemisms accord with conversational principle, especially politeness principle. Leech’s (1983:132) maxims of the Politeness Principle tend to go in pairs as follows:(1)Tact Maxim (in impositives and commissives)a. Minimize cost to other;b. Maximize benefit to other.Some examples : a、If you keep this diet, you’ll be on the heavy side.(c.f.: If you keep on eating too much, you’ll become very fat.) b、Thank you for your kind hospitality. (c.f.: Thank you for your delicious food.)(2)Generosity Maxim (in impositives and commissives)a. Minimize benefit to self;b. Maximize cost to self.Some examples: a、Would you do me a favor? (c.f.: Can you help me?) b、I shall never cease to feel grateful for your favors. (c.f.: I shall never cease to feel grateful for your help.)(3)Approbation Maxim (in expressive and assertive)a. Minimize dispraise of other;b. Maximize praise of other.Some examples: a、He is a senior citizen now. (c.f.: He is an old man now.) b、Cao Yu is a Shakespeare of China. (c.f.: Cao Yu is the best playwright of China.)(4)Modesty Maxim (in expressives and assertives)a. Minimize praise of self;b. Maximize dispraise of self.Some examples: a、This is a token of my regard for you. (c.f.: This is a present for you.) b、Your praise is the highest honor for me. (c.f.: Thank you for your praise.)(5)Agreement Maxim (in assertives)a. Minimize disagreement between self and other;b. Maximize agreement between self and other.Some examples: a、I couldn’t share the same idea with you. (c.f.: I don’t agree with you.) b、If you were in my position, you would do the same. (c.f.: I have to do so.)(6)Sympathy Maxim (in assertives)a. Minimize antipathy between self and other;b. Maximize sympathy between self and other.”  Some examples: a、I am sorry to hear that your father rested in Abraham’s arms. (c.f.: I am sorry to hear that your father is dead.) b、If I were you, I would have taken a route of egress as you did. (c.f.: If I had been in your position, I would have been defeated by the mighty enemy, too.)Leech ties politeness to the relationship between both parties and the language used. He claims that “static” feature, such as social distance, interact with “dynamic” features, such as the kind of illocutionary demand the speaker is making on the maker, to produce an appropriate degree of politeness. The core of his politeness is to minimize the expression of impolite benefits.5.2 Polite function and Politeness Principle Polite function is the basic social function of euphemism. And Politeness Principle shows this function. Euphemism always abides by the Politeness Principle. In such a case, euphemism can make people’s relationship more harmonious. But there are also some exceptions. Euphemisms of military do not accord with Politeness principle most of the time.5.3 Politeness Principle and the cooperative Principle The Politeness Principle shows equal and friendly relationships between people in the society. It demands that in communication, the speaker should cooperate with the hearer. The two parties use euphemisms to replace harsh words because it can meet the psychological needs of face-want. And the language used by the two parties should be appropriate. Generally speaking, the appropriateness of the speech is closely related with euphemism. However, “The Maxim of Relevance” of Grice’s “Cooperative Principle” limits the choice of euphemism. He suggests that in communication, the reply of the hearer should be closely related to the speech of the speaker. In the process of communication, the euphemisms used just now should be connected with the primary language symbols. In such case, it will provide a clue to the hearer so that he can understand the connotation of the speech. This principle provides a lot of standard conversational implicatures. In a word, the two parties can understand the intention of each other from the context.(11) A: How is John doing with his study at school?B: He’s a machine.Here, from the literal meaning of B’s reply, he seems haven’t answer A’s question. But at least, his answer violates Quality Maxim and Relation Maxim. We know that though B’s answer doesn’t cooperate with A’s question, we can still understand B’s meaning by the deeper implication of his speech. First, we should suppose that this conversation tally with Cooperative Principle. Second, we can guess the implication between machine and study. At last, we can infer that John is hard-working. Thus, if the utterance is not relevant with each other, we can reason. “Unlike presuppositions and entailments, implicatures are inferences that cannot be made from isolated utterances. They are dependent on the context of the utterance and the shared knowledge between the speaker and the hearer.”  6. Conclusion Euphemism is an appropriate language form created by people to achieve an ideal communicative effect in the social interactions. “Enrighr D.J. stated that ‘If euphemism doesn’t exist, the movement of the world will stop and it will be filled with hatred.’”  Nearly no one can live without euphemism. Euphemism is not only a social phenomenon, but also a lingual phenomenon. The formation of euphemism is the result of social factors and psychological factors. From the day of its birth, there are countless ties between euphemism and the social culture. Euphemism develops while the society develops. Euphemism is a mirror. We can learn the values and moral concepts of the society. Euphemism that accords with Politeness Principle oils human communication because polite function is the main function of Politeness principle. If we make good use of this language form, it will accelerate and facilitate human communication. People’s interpersonal relations will be more harmonious. We can make full use of euphemism and make our life more colorful. Bibliography 冯翠华. English Rhetorical Options [M]. 北京:外语教学与研究出版社,1995,12. PP207-208 李国南. 辞格与词汇 [M]. 上海: 上海外语教育出版社,2001. PP245-246 向仍东. 浅析英语委婉语的特征、构成及作用 [J]．长沙大学学报，2005,11. P82 同P251 同P261 同P262 同PP252-253 同P254 同P258 胡春梅. 论委婉语的构成及功能[J]. 浙江教育学院学报,2005,1. P32 刘纯豹. 英语委婉语词典[Z]. 北京: 商务印书馆,2001. PP172-180 同P32 同P84 同P84 吴祥云. 委婉语的社会功用[J]. 昭通师范高等专科学校学报,2004,2. P34 Joanna Channell. Vague Language [M].上海:上海外语教育出版社,2000,6. P179 李鑫华. 英语修辞格详论[M]. 上海:上海外语教育出版社,2000. P120 同P35 同P122 同P212 同P179 李树德.冯奇. 英语修辞简明教程[M]. 上海:复旦大学出版社,2003,10. P53 同P84 同P114 何自然. Notes on Pragmatics [M]. 南京:南京师范大学出版社,2003,1.P83 同P83 Jean Stilwell Peccei. Pragmatics [M]. 北京:外语教学与研究出版 社,2000,8. P64 彭莉. 委婉语的社会语用功能[J]. 池州师专学报,2004. P76 同P86 同P30 同P84
Good Country People is one of the most sought after works of Flannery O’ Connor. It is said to be the biography of O’Connor but she never claimed it to be such. The novel Good Country People seems to reflect the current situation and emotional status of O’ Connor while she was writing the novel, and if it is not in fact her biography, her emotion at that time has influenced the novel greatly. ...
The most common form of evidence is statistics. Statistics are a favorite evidence of many writers and speakers. They provide actual numbers in support of ideas and conclusions. If you can show that 75% of high schools seniors cannot find Washington State on a map of North America, then it is strong evidence for your contention that high school seniors are not being taught the geography of the ...
Kate Chopin's 'The Story of an Hour', was set in the early 1900's. Mrs. Mallard, a lady with heart trouble, was carefully told that her husband was suddenly killed in a railroad disaster. Unexpectedly, her husband walks through the door safely but too late. Mrs. Mallard had already given up. These words could be used to described Mrs. Mallard: lonely, fat, stubborn, controlling, demanding, ...
Taboo and euphemism
Posted November 20, 2005 by jason926future in Uncategorized. 2 Comments
Taboos and euphemisms exist in every language. They play an important part in culture. Dealing with them appropriately enables us to successfully communicate.
A taboo is something forbidden by religions, laws, morals or society and it is a common social phenomenon of every nation.
In Western countries many people consider the date the thirteenth or Friday to be unlucky. This has its roots in religion. According to the Bible, Judas, who betrayed his master, Christ, was the thirteenth person at Christ’s last supper. And Friday was said to be the day Jesus was crucified.
It is also a taboo to ask somebody about private matters such as money, their age and health.
There is also a body language taboo. Taking the distance in social conversation for example, unless they know each other well, British and American people dislike being too close to each other while talking.
Westerners of the same sex also do not hold hands, as many people in China do.
A euphemism is the use other words or phrases instead of the words required by truth or accuracy. That is, people don’t say directly what they mean due to politeness.
For example, blind people are sometimes called “sight-deprived” and old people are often called “senior citizens.” The euphemistic “sight-deprived” and “senior” are used to avoid offense — people may feel hurt when they are described as old or blind.
In fact, a euphemism is a kind of indirect speech. In such speech the speaker gets the listener to understand what he really means according to the shared background information.
When someone says, “Could I ask where the restroom is” he does not mean to ask a question. It is a request. The speaker makes this request indirectly with a question to say that he wants to use the toilet.
On account of the difference between cultures, taboos and euphemisms are varied according to circumstances and situations. In a certain situation, what is acceptable in one culture may be not in another.
For example, Chinese students often begin their talking with foreigners by asking such questions as “How much is your rent” or “How old are you” They think it a friendly way to start a conversation and to show friendship. In English, these are considered private questions and Western people feel uncomfortable being asked questions like these by someone whom they barely know.
Another example is “Where are you going” In Chinese, people say something like this as greeting; while in English it is a real question. If we greet foreigners by saying this, it can cause a misunderstanding.
The misuse of taboo and euphemism comes from cultural ignorance and misunderstanding. A person’s culture determines their style of communication.
Generally speaking, both taboos and euphemisms are needed in communication. It is necessary for us to pay attention to such expressions so that we can get along easily with foreigners.
Euphemism and Taboos
Two Sides to Euphemisms
Euphemisms are terms used to refer to things or actions which soften the name they are usually called. Usually it is a positive word to cover some harsh, unpleasant reality. For example, when someone dies, we often say they are sleeping, have passed away, etc. These are euphemisms.
When they work, euphemisms may change the way we think about or see the thing named. This may be good. If asking about a loved one who has “passed away” gives some sense of peace to the person who loved him/her, then surely it is a useful term which both protects feelings and shows our respect and concern.
However, sometimes euphemisms are used to impress or worse, to hide something that we really should know, to mislead and deceive. For example, the military uses many euphemisms to hide the dark reality of war. In “The World of Doublespeak,” William Lutz tells us that the military calls killing the enemy “servicing the target” and tried to get funding for the neutron bomb by calling it an “enhanced radiation device” (Language Awareness, p.60).
In Crazy Talk, Stupid Talk, media professor Neil Postman derides the term “Operation Sunshine” which the U.S. government gave to some experiments it once conducted with the hydrogen bomb in the South Pacific. (p.415) He sees this eupemism as morally wrong.
Postman warns us, however, that people who avoid the use of euphemisms in favor of more “earthy” language are not necessarily speaking more honestly or plainly. “To ask where the ‘shithouse’ is, is no more to the point than to ask where the ‘restroom’ is. But in the difference between the two words, there is expressed a vast difference in one’s attitude toward privacy and propriety” (p.415).
Words which refer to bodily functions, certain parts of our anatomy and sex have usually been considered “taboo” to a greater or lesser degree at various times in our history. Some taboos of the past seem amusing to us today. “Polite ladies and gentlemen of the nineteenth century could not bring themsleves to say ‘breast,’ ‘leg,’ or ‘thigh’ – not even of chicken – so the terms ‘white meat’ and ‘dark meat’ were substituted” (Hayakawa, A. and Hayakawa, S., Language in Thought and Culture, p.418).
Some expressions regarding money, illness, death, and religion have also become taboo. There is some debate as to whether such terms are useful, positive, or hurtful. It may be worthwhile to consider when and where you use these taboo terms and why.