Day: January 16, 2012

“Does your wife… go?”

Great piece from The Economist on euphemisms.

SHORT sharp terms make big points clear. But people often prefer to soften their speech with euphemism: a mixture of abstraction, metaphor, slang and understatement that offers protection against the offensive, harsh or blunt. In 1945, in one of history’s greatest euphemisms, Emperor Hirohito informed his subjects of their country’s unconditional surrender after two atomic bombs, the loss of 3m people and with invasion looming with the words, “The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.”Euphemisms range promiscuously, from diplomacy “the minister is indisposed”, meaning he won’t be coming to the bedroom a grande horizontale in France is a notable courtesan. But it is possible to attempt a euphemistic taxonomy. One way to categorise them is ethical. In “Politics and the English Language”, George Orwell wrote that obfuscatory political language is designed “to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable”. Some euphemisms do distort and mislead; but some are motivated by kindness.