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There is a variety of periphrasis which we shall call euphemistic.

Euphemism, as is known, is a word or phrase used to replace an unpleasant word or expression by a conventionally more acceptable one, for example, the word 'to die' has bred the following euphemisms: to pass away, to expire, to be no more, to depart, to join the majority, to begone, and the more facetious ones: to kick the bucket, to give up the ghost, to go west. So euphemisms are synonyms which aim at producing a deliberately mild effect.

The origin of the term 'euphemism' discloses the aim of the device very clearly, i.e. speaking well (from Greek— eu = well + -pheme = speaking). In the vocabulary of any language, synonyms can be found that soften an otherwise coarse or unpleasant idea. Euphemism is sometimes figuratively called " a whitewashing device". The linguistic peculiarity of euphemism lies in the fact that every euphemism must call up a definite synonym in the mind of the reader or listener. This synonym, or dominant in a group of synonyms, as it is often called, must follow the euphemism like a shadow, as 'to possess a vivid imagination', or 'to tell stories' in the proper context will call up the unpleasant verb to lie. The euphemistic synonyms given above are part of the language-as-a-system. They have not been freshly invented. They are expressive means of the language and are to be found in all good dictionaries. They cannot be regarded as stylistic devices because they do not call to mind the keyword or dominant of the group; in other words, they refer the mind to the concept directly, not through the medium of another word. Compare these euphemisms with the following from Dickens's " Pickwick Papers":

" They think we have come by this horse in some dishonest manner."

The italicized parts call forth the word 'steal' (have stolen it).

Euphemisms may be divided into several groups according to their spheres of application. The most recognized are the following: 1) religious, 2) moral, 3) medical and 4) parliamentary.

The life of euphemisms is short. They very soon become closely associated with the referent (the object named) and give way to a newly-coined word or combination of words, which, being the sign of a sign, throws another veil over an unpleasant or indelicate concept. Here is an interesting excerpt from an article on this subject.

" The evolution over the years of a civilized mental health service has been marked by periodic changes in terminology. The madhouse became the lunatic asylum; the asylum made way for the mental hospital —even if the building remained the same. Idiots, imbeciles and the feeble-minded became low, medium and high-grade mental defectives. All are now to be lumped together as patients of severely subnormal personality. The insane became persons of unsound mind, and are now to be mentally-ill patients. As each phrase develops the stigmata of popular prejudice, it is abandoned in favour of another, sometimes less precise than the old. Unimportant in themselves, these changes of name are the signposts of progress." l

Albert С Baugh gives another instance of such changes:

"...the common word for a woman's undergarment down to the eighteenth century was 'smock'. It was then replaced by the more delicate word 'shift'. In the nineteenth century the same motive led to the substitution of the word 'chemise' and in the twentieth this has been replaced by 'combinations', 'step-ins', and other euphemisms." 2

Today we have a number of words denoting similar garments, as 'briefs', and others.

Conventional euphemisms employed in conformity to social usages are best illustrated by the parliamentary codes of expression. In an article headed " In Commons, a Lie is Inexactitude" written by James Feron in The New York Times, we may find a number of words that are not to be used in Parliamentary debate. " When Sir Winston Churchill, some years ago, " writes Feron, " termed a parliamentary opponent a 'purveyor of terminological inexactitudes', every one in the chamber knew he meant 'liar'. Sir Winston had been ordered by the Speaker to withdraw a stronger epithet. So he used the euphemism, which became famous and is still used in the Commons. It conveyed the insult without sounding offensive, and it satisfied the Speaker." 3

The author further points out that certain words, for instance, traitor and coward, are specifically banned in the House of Commons because earlier Speakers have ruled them disorderly or unparliamentary. Speakers



1 New Statesman and Nation, June 15, 1957.

2 Baugh, Albert С Op. cit., p. 375.

3 New York Times, Nov. 6, 1964.


have decided that jackass is unparliamentary but goose is acceptable; dog, rat and swine are out of order, but halfwit and Tory clot are in order.

We also learn from this article that " a word cannot become the subject of parliamentary ruling unless a member directs the attention of the Speaker to it." 1

The changes in designating objects disclose the true nature of the relations between words and their referents. We must admit that there is" a positive magic in words and, as Prof, Randolph Quirk has it,

"...we are liable to be dangerously misled through being mesmerized by a word or through mistaking a word for its referent." 2

This becomes particularly noticeable in connection with what are called political euphemisms. These are really understatements, the aim of which is to mislead public opinion and to express what is unpleasant in a more delicate manner. Sometimes disagreeable facts are even distorted with the help of a euphemistic expression. Thus the headline in one of the British newspapers " Tension in Kashmir" was to hide the fact that there was a real uprising in that area; " Undernourishment of children in India" stood for 'starvation'. In A. J. Cronin's novel " The Stars Look Down" one of the members of Parliament, referring to the words " Undernourishment of children in India" says: " Honourable Members of the House understand the meaning of this polite euphemism." By calling undernourishment a polite euphemism he discloses the true meaning of the word.

An interesting article dealing with the question of " political euphemisms" appeared in " Литературная газета" 3 written by the Italian journalist Entzo Rava and headed " The Vocabulary of the Bearers of the Burden of Power." In this article Entzo Rava wittily discusses the euphemisms of the Italian capitalist press, which seem to have been borrowed from the American and English press. Thus, for instance, he mockingly states that capitalists have disappeared from Italy. When the adherents of capitalism find it necessary to mention capitalists, they replace the word capitalist by the combination 'free enterprisers', the word profit is replaced by 'savings', the building up of labour reserves stands for 'unemployment', 'dismissal' ('discharge', 'firing') of workers is the reorganization of the enterprise, etc.

As has already been explained, genuine euphemism must call up the word it stands for. It is always the result of some deliberate clash between 'two synonyms. If a euphemism fails to carry along with it the word it is intended to replace, it is not a euphemism, but a deliberate veiling of the truth. All these building up of labour reserves, savings, free enterprisers and the like are not intended to give the referent its true name, but to distort the truth. The above expressions serve that purpose. Compare these word-combinations with real euphemisms, like a four-letter word (= an obscenity); or a woman of a certain type (= a prostitute, a whore); to



1 Ibid.

2 Quirk, Randolph. The Use of English. Longmans, 1962, p. 118.

3 «Литературная газета», 1965, 22/VI.

glow (= to sweat), all of which bring to our mind the other word (words) and only through them the referent.

Here is another good example of euphemistic phrases used by Galsworthy in his " Silver Spoon."

" In private I should merely call him a liar. In the Press you should use the words: 'Reckless disregard for truth' and in Parliament—that you regret he ‘should have been so misinformed’."

Periphrastic and euphemistic expressions were characteristic of certain literary trends and even produced a term periphrastic style. But it soon gave way to a more straightforward way of describing things. " The veiled forms of expression, " writes G. H. McKnight, " which served when one was unwilling to look facts in the face have been succeeded by naked expressions exhibiting reality." 1


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