I do remember those times when my mom was telling me that I could not say “what the hell!” at the lesson in school. I was seven years old and I heard this phrase many times at the street when someone was very angry. I tried to explain to my mother that I was sure that this phrase was said just at the right time because I was angry about my mark.
However, the answer I got astonished me, - Dear, not everything in this world is named as it is. It is generally accepted to avoid them at all or at least to say it milder. Try to say “It is unfair!”- However, my protest was expressed in another way. – What the hell! – Well, I was punished.
This simple story from my childhood demonstrates the people’s rejection of everything that can recall unpleasant images in mind. Ever since humankind knows the word “politeness,” every disgusting phenomenon in the human life received mild and inoffensive synonym. At first, it was a simple word but with not so “bright” connotation. However, for today, we have even the special lists of all these synonyms that can include two or even five words to hide the meaning of the only one. It is funny; do not you think so?
What Are Euphemisms and How They Conquered the World
The linguistic term is called “euphemism.” Their aim is to change the words with harsh, offensive, and obscene meaning on the words with the same shade of meaning but sounding pleasant and not recalling the negative emotions and feelings.
I do not know why, but it just keeps getting worse with every generation. Let us look at one example mentioned by George Carlin, American stand-up comic, in one of his performances. There is a condition during the battle when a fighting person’s nerves system is overstressed and cannot function adequately any more. The nerves system is collapsed or is going to do it.
In the World War I, that condition was called “shell shock.” It sounded simple, direct, and honest. Then, the generation has changed.
The World War II has come. Therefore, what do you think? The same physical condition was already named “battle fatigue.” It takes already more time to say it and does not seem to sound hurtful. The term “fatigue” sounds not bad and even more beautiful.
Then, it was a war in Korea. The medicine made a great step forward and the same physical condition was called as operational exhaustion – eight syllables! The phrase sounds totally sterile now. Carlin said in his performance that “it can be applied to the engine functioning but not to a human condition.”
The war in Vietnam has deepened the understanding of the discussed shell shock that turned from two simple words into a post-traumatic stress disorder. There is still eight syllables but the hyphen was added! And the pain has disappeared. Just let imagine the situation when the WWI soldier lays on the ground and tries to tell that he has “a post-traumatic stress disorder.”
“When and how has it happened that our toilet paper became a bathroom tissue?” – Carling further expresses his disagreement and astonishment with all these changes. – The sneakers became the running shoes, medicine became medication, and a car crash became an automobile accident. On the weather channel, a man hear no longer partly cloudy today, but partly sunny.
You are an owner of a mobile home, but not of the trailer. If you want to buy a used car, the pop-up on a website will notify you that only now you can buy a previously owned transportation with a sale! AIDS does not kill people enormously, it depopulates.
As for me, I stopped to understand the whole world at all when they invented a good deal of ten-word combinations to mention cripples. It looks like we want to disguise everything that is unattractive, unpleasant, or can hurt. People that need special assistance, the physically challenged, people with disabilities, differently abled. Every year gladdens us with a new euphemism. Any of these words does not change the physical condition of a cripple.
French people also tried to hide their stink with perfume; however, they should better try a bath. Moreover, from recent time, you can justify your foolishness saying that you got a learning disorder or you can proudly declare that you are minimally exceptional. Furthermore, we liquidated all old people. Now, there are only senior citizens that not die, they solemnly pass away.
Euphemisms have intruded almost into all fields of our life:
- - Religious euphemisms;
(Gosh and gee instead of God and Jesus);
- - Excretory euphemisms;
(to powder one's nose, instead of to piss and defecate)
- - Sexual euphemisms;
(hitting it off – for a good start to relationship; running the bases – for progressing sexually in a relationship)
- - Euphemisms for death and murder;
(fading quickly – dying; having passed away, departed, gone to be with the Lord – have died; )
- - Euphemisms in job titles;
(CPA – car parking attendant; sanitation engineer – janitor; transparent-wall maintenance officer – window cleaner)
- - and so on.
It brings the question up: Are people afraid to name the things with their names? I do not call upon using the profane words and happily announce the purpose of your visit to the toilet. Most of the euphemisms are useful and must be in a language. They demonstrate human’s personal culture and behavior; and some things should be really better called with their milder synonyms.
Nevertheless, the process that we observe today in many countries in the world proves that linguists and politicians forgot themselves playing with politeness.