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Euphemism

  • Whenever I hear the word empowerment, it always makes me feel slightly edgy, as if at any moment I might be asked to take my clothes off. If someone suggests that a given activity is going to be 'empowering,' I know that it is almost certainly going to be undignified, mildly humiliating, or involve heights. As a rule, 'empowerment' appears to be the consolation prize for those of us who will never have any actual power, and you can safely assume that no one in any position of genuine authority will be joining in.

  • If someone tells you he is going to make 'a realistic decision,' you immediately understand that he has resolved to do something bad.

    • Mary McCarthy,
    • "The American Realist Playwrights," On the Contrary ()
  • Among the many evils which prevail under the sun, the abuse of words is not the least considerable. By the influence of time, and the perversion of fashion, the plainest and most unequivocal may be so altered, as to have a meaning assigned them almost diametrically opposite to their original signification.

    • Hannah More,
    • "On the Danger of Sentimental or Romantic Connexions," Essays on Various Subjects ()
  • Euphemisms, like fashions, have their day and pass, perhaps to return at another time. Like the guests at a masquerade ball, they enjoy social approval only so long as they retain the capacity for deception.

  • Beware the euphemisms, those phrases such as 'he passed away,' 'they are having relations,' and 'she's experiencing the change of life.' These vapid, indirect expressions will blow smoke over significant events and objects. Euphemisms tone down the charge, dull the sting, soften emotional impact When the evening news reports that anti-strike forces reduced the threat of non-military territories bordering our strategic encampments, it means pilots bombed hospitals, schools, and museums. Euphemisms distance us from experience and ourselves. They are tools for manipulating language to confuse or avoid reality rather than express it.

  • When I was little, my father used to sell guns and ammo at a sporting goods store, but I always told everyone he was an arms dealer, because it sounded more exciting.

  • Language — has always been changing, & it has been said, as morals grow worse language grows more refined ...

  • The trouble with this country is the national passion for euphemisms.

  • In South America euphemism appears to be the grisly preserve of violent power. 'Liberty' was the name of the biggest prison in Uruguay under the military dictatorship, while in Chile one of the concentration camps was called 'Dignity.' It was the self-styled 'Peace and Justice' paramilitary group in Chiapas [Mexico] that in 1997 shot 45 peasants in the back, nearly all of them women and children, as they prayed in a church. What have the souls of the south done over the past few decades to deserve quite so much liberty and dignity and peace and justice?

    • Isabel Fonseca,
    • "A Land in Exile From Itself," The New York Times ()
  • I know uh secret code. I ain' crazy, I got uh 'motional disorder; I ain' got fits, I got uh convulsive disorder; an' I ain' ugly, I plain; an' I ain' black, I dusky; an' my children ain' bastards, they — they love-flowers!

  • The term 'clean bombs' provides the perfect metaphor for defense analysts and arms controllers. This sort of language shields us from the emotional reaction that would result if it were clear that one was talking about plans for mass murder, for mangled bodies. Defense analysts don't talk about incinerating cities; they talk about 'countervalue attacks.' Human death, in nuclear parlance, is most often referred to as 'collateral damage' ...

    • Carol Cohn,
    • "'Clean Bombs' and Clean Language," in Jean Bethke Elshtain and Sheila Tobias, eds., Women, Militarism, and War ()
  • I still gasp at the revealing lingo for weapons: erector launchers, thrust ratios; my teeth grind reflexively when Dubya sputters Eye-Rack and Eye-Ran have 'nookyular capabacity.'

  • Everything he didn't particularly want to do was described by Humphrey as 'good experience' ...

  • Obviously, for wolves, be they in sheep's clothing or in mufti, it is always best to refer to the lamb problem in the interest of public relations, as well as for the good of the lupine conscience.

    • Linda Nochlin,
    • in Vivan Gornick and Barbara K. Moran, eds., Woman in Sexist Society ()
  • Southern women tend to be real demure. They don't like to talk about anything graphic. I had a girlfriend who told me she was in the hospital for female problems. I said, 'Get real! What does that mean?' She says, 'You know, female problems.' I said, 'What? You can't parallel park? You can't get credit?'

    • Pam Stone,
    • in Regina Barreca, ed., The Penguin Book of Women's Humor ()
  • ... in terms of the biology of the planet, development is a euphemism for destruction.

  • I'm waxed clean — hairless as the day as I was born. But don't say 'Tia has no pubic hair.' That's so clinical. Use a nice euphemism. Say 'She's mowed her secret garden' or 'She's cleared the way to the Promised Land.' Because that's what it is, right?

  • She never believed it when someone said there was good news. In her experience, when there was good news, people just said what the good news was. If there was bad news that they wanted you to believe was good news, then they said, 'Good news!'