SPidge Tales

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Euphemisms

I recently borrowed comedian George Carlin’s newest book, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?, from the library. I’ve never found Carlin terribly funny, but he does have some interesting and irreverent takes on language, society, and political correctness that more than make up for the fact that he is becoming the dirty version of cranky Andy Rooney in his old age. I do disagree with just about everything Carlin has to say about religion, yet one can see the grip that Catholicism holds, even on its apostates. Carlin cannot stop mentioning the Church, and the religious imagery spreads to his choice of book title and cover, with himself imposed onto DaVinci’s Last Supper, impatiently waiting for Jesus to pass the pork chops.

Carlin’s best social commentary comes in his remarks on the increasing proliferation of euphemisms in today’s society. He calls euphemistic language a type that “obscure[s] meaning rather than enhance[ing] it; [it] shade[s] the truth.” Euphemisms are words that replace other words that make people feel uncomfortable. Like when people say “beauty mark” instead of “mole,” when pimples become skin blemishes, free doughnuts become complimentary breakfasts, fat women become full figured, secretaries become human resource assistants, etc, etc.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be nice and not hurt others’s feelings. But, the problem with this type of language is that it shades the truth. Giving “nicer” names does not change the fact that a person is fat or the importance of person’s position in a company. Calling a secretary a human resources assistant sounds better, but is she really going to be getting a pay raise or added responsibilities? Do pimples look less ugly (excuse me, I meant to say “minimally beautiful”) when called skin blemishes?

We obscure language not just by substituting "nicer" words, but with our phrases and interactions, as well. Some can be justified, such as when your girlfriend asks if these pants make her butt look big. However, most of the time, I think, it is best to be honest. It may hurt more in the beginning, but in the end, it will be better. Like, when we reject another’s romantic advances, we try to be nice about it and say that we aren’t looking for a relationship right now, or that we do not want to hurt the friendship. In truth, what we mean is that we do not want a relationship with this particular person. You don’t need to be blunt and say that the idea of dating the person repulses you, but you can be direct and say you just aren’t interested. This extends beyond relationships too. Like, when you are a coach and you cut a player, don’t say you wish there was a spot on the team for the kid. Just tell him the truth, you did not think he was one of the 12 (or whatever number) best.

4 Comments:

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