As an indispensable and natural part of English language, English euphemisms have existed for a long time.The appearance of everything, including euphemism, has its reasons.The emergence of English euphemisms has a close relation with language taboos and religion. Since English euphemisms play an important role in social communication, they worth careful and thorough study. This paper will mainly deal with the formation, classification and social function of English euphemisms.
English euphemisms are almost employed in all fields of life such as in the field of daily life, in the field of education, in the field of law, in the field of politics, and in the field of commerce and industry. The function of English euphemisms is diversified. Besides evasion, English euphemisms now are also used for evasion, politeness, elegance.
‘Euphemism’comes from the Greek ‘eu’ (good) and ‘phemism’ (speech) and thus means mans literally ‘to speak’ with good words or in a pleasant manner .Originally, offering sacrifices to gods, old Greeks used words of good omen, that is euphemisms as a rule. It is exemplified in the ancient Greek terms for the Furies—the Eumenides or Erinyes. According to Neaman’s (1990)argument:
Generally speaking, euphemizing is defined as substituting an inoffensive or pleasant term for a more explicit, offensive one, thereby veneering the truth by using kind words(P1).
Euphemism is prevalent in human society, a linguistic phenomenon is the use of language is an important means of regulating interpersonal relationships, its use has an important social function.Such as interpersonal communication in the ceremonial functions, functions of deception to cover up the truth, and human Ironically function. Social function
English euphemisms have great social significance and practical significance in purifying language, promoting human relation and embellishing professions to seek for the ideology of fair competition. As Liu Chunbao(1994)claims:
Need is the mother of invention. The creation and formation of euphemisms is closely related to the needs of people, such as social communication, interest, reflection of values and mentality. Furthermore, these needs also give rise to their various social functions. In order to establish good social relation, people use euphemisms to make what they want to say more pleasant. So they become an important means in communication (P10).
1. For evasion
Since death is inevitable, it has become the fear of all human being. In early time, people seldom mentioned death directly because they were superstitious about it. They believed that death was a devil that can hear human’s voice. So if you speak of it, it will appear. Thus, there were many euphemisms about the word “die” such as “breathe one’s last” and “join the majority”.
2 For politeness
The Pursuit of beauty is the nature of human being. Beauty helps one feel confident while ugliness makes one have a sense of inferiority. So it is impolite even offensive to say someone is ugly directly. When people want to express someone is ugly, they usually say “He is plain looking” or “She is not pretty”, etc. With the improvement of living standard, more and more people have a weight problem. Various products of losing weight flood into the market for being too fat is not only a problem of appearance but also a problem of health. Obesity brings inconvenience as well as the risk of many diseases. Therefore, there are a lot of euphemisms about fatness like “plump”, “chubby” or “tubby”, etc. “Skinny” is another unpleasant word. No one likes to be described as “skinny”, but they will be really pleased when they hear others describe them as “slim” or “slender”.
Excrement is a disgusting topic in polite conversation. They are avoided by means of euphemisms. “Defecation” refers to one of the sickest elements in the world. When you go to see a doctor for a stomach upset, the doctor will ask you, “How is your bowel movement?” And if he wants to have a further examination, he will need a specimen of your manure. If someone rounds his thumb and index finger up to form the letter “C” with other fingers stretching out, he wants to go to W.C. There are other expressions having the same meaning, like “to sing a song”, “to see the moon”, “answer the nature’s call”, “do one’s business” or simply “ Excuse me”.
Based on the comparative study above made, euphemisms are more popular not only for the historical reasons, but also the needs of times. Lin Zhenyue(1994) notes:
Euphemisms may be based on different cultures and histories, the psychological and linguistic patterns underlying their formation are the same. Psychologically, if not linguistically, meaning can be defined as the sum of our responses to a word or an object. Words themselves may be seen as responses to stimuli. After a word has been associated for a long period of time with the stimulus that provokes it, the word itself picks up aspects of the response elicited by the stimulus object(P59).
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