Euphemism

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Euphemism

 

the replacement of coarse or offensive words and expressions with less offensive ones or of certain names with conventional designations. Euphemisms are the result of lexical taboos imposed by various prejudices, superstitions, and religious beliefs on the use of the names for specific objects and phenomena in life, thus necessitating other means of expression.

In the early stages of social development of many Indo-European peoples, the names of various animals were euphemisms. Thus, the Russian word medved’ (“bear”) is an artificially created compound meaning “honey-eater”; it replaced an earlier word, which was placed under taboo because of mythological beliefs. Among professional hunters the word medved’ subsequently underwent a second taboo and was replaced with new euphemisms, such as khoziain (“master”), mokhnach (“hairy one”), and lomaka (“bone breaker”). When taboos are rooted in superstition and prejudice, euphemisms arise for the words for death and illnesses. Thus, Russian umer (“he died”) is replaced with otpravilsia k praotsam (“he went to join his forefathers”), otdal bogu dushu (“he gave his soul to god”), or prikazal dolgo zhit’ (“he ordered a long life”).

In a civilized society one of the principal causes for the use of euphemisms is etiquette, which bans the use of coarse or indecent expressions. Thus, instead of saying “you are lying,” one says “you are inventing things,” “you are mistaken,” or “you are not entirely correct.” Physicians often use Latin names for illnesses or special medical terms: in Russian, “cancer” and “tbc” (both spelled with Latin letters) may be used for the standard Russian terms rak and tuberkulez; smert’ (“death”) may be replaced by letal’nyi iskhod (“fatal outcome”). In modern societies, euphemisms are also used to impose censorship on the revelation of military and state secrets. In such cases the proper names of countries, cities, and military units are replaced by letters and conventional designations, such as “N” and “Nth,” or by descriptive expressions, such as “a neighboring power.”

Some jargons, in addition to embellishments and euphemisms, also use reverse euphemisms, or dysphemisms, which involve the replacement of neutral expressions with coarser, more familiar, or more vulgar ones. Thus, Russian dat’ duba (literally, “to give the oak”), sygrat’ v iashchik (literally, “to play the box”), and skopytit’sia (literally, “to be knocked off one’s feet”) may be used for the neutral umeret’ (“to die”). Such substitutions sometimes serve the purpose of disguising the meaning of conversations likely to be overheard.

REFERENCES

Reformatskii, A. A. Vvedenie v iazykoznanie, 4th ed. Moscow, 1967.
Bonfante, G. “Etudes sur le tabou dans les langues indoeuropéennes.” In the collection Mélanges de linguistique offerts à Charles Bally. Geneva, 1939.

A. M. KUZNETSOV

References in periodicals archive ?
The move came just days after several conservative members of Congress introduced legislation, euphemistically called the "Free Speech Fairness Act," that would gut the law, which prevents tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, from intervening in political campaigns by endorsing or opposing candidates for public office.
Archbishop Jackson blasted the "continuing incapacities of policy makers to address the misery and the indignity of raw homelessness for children and adults, of what is euphemistically called Direct Provision and the unthinkable scandal of people dying on the streets".
The statue bears an inscription that reads: "This monument bears witness to the suffering of hundreds of thousands of women and girls, euphemistically called 'Comfort Women', who were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces in thirteen Asian-Pacific countries from 1931-1945.
There have been calls for a second referendum, called euphemistically "a people's vote", to keep us in the EU if the 'people' don't like the deal.
The 'Remainer' Journal's editorial pleads (in true EU fashion) for a second referendum, euphemistically calling it "a people's vote", to keep us in the EU if the 'people' don't like the trade deal offered.
The last time I competed in what is euphemistically referred to as a "fun run" was way back in 1983, when as a spritely 26-year-old, I ran the Liverpool marathon - all 26 miles and lived to tell the tale!
Pushing horses beyond their natural abilities on an intentionally dangerous course is a recipe for disaster: many collapse, crash through railings, sustain broken legs and necks, and endure what the industry euphemistically calls "breakdown".
A policeman who has gained notoriety over the years for his expertise in extrajudicial killings euphemistically called 'encounters' is hardly expected to stay put or in a reachable place.
Last week it was One Centenary Way, as part of the euphemistically named Paradise development, entailing a stark steel Sovietera Brutalist edifice, when we have so many examples of good design and materials here to draw on.
His ideas are particularly odious to me: using pejorative language about Pope Francis and supporting a group that would like to thrust the institutional church backward, instead of embracing Francis' idea of a more inclusive, forward-looking church based more on the faithful's lived experiences than an outdated set of rules constructed by male policymakers in a former age and euphemistically called "tradition."
Moved by the suffering endured by these grandmotherly women when they were young, these two high school students set out to finance a statue honoring those euphemistically called "comfort women."
It doesn't help that they are building what is euphemistically called a smart motorway along this stretch.