Since the 1970s, one of the biggest changes in modern English has been the return of euphemism. The English word “euphemism” originated from the Greek word “euphemismos”, which means “fair or good speech”. The prefix “eu” means “good, sounds well good” and the root ”pheme” means ”saying or speech”. And thus the literal meaning of ”euphemism” is ”good speech” or ”saying something that sounds well good” (Liu Chunbao, 2001). (This is ungrammatical. It should be “sounds good”.
If Liu actually said this, I would use another quote or paraphrase what he said. In primitive society, people could not explain disease and many other natural phenomena, so they revered and worshipped the power of nature, which was the origin of religion and euphemism. Originally, in the fetes of the ancient Greeks, people always used words of good omen to avoid diseases and calamities. Ancient Greek culture spread through Europe, naturally later was introduced into England. But others say that the Written records of English euphemism earliestly??? first appeared in the Old English Period.
Actually, from the perspective of human history, in all kinds of languages, even at the oral stage before the appearance of written language, English euphemism has already arisen (2001). English euphemism is based on appeared for two reasons. One, the euphemism took the aims to take place of a ”taboo” word. When giving up a taboo word, people will find another new one to take its place of it, thus creating a euphemism. Two, the new euphemism avoids offensiveness during the communication (Ma Yiyun, 2005). It is a figure of rhetoric by which an unpleasant or offensive thing is described or referred to by a milder term.
Of course, as the changes of time and the development of society, besides the religious reasons, etiquette, feelings of likes and dislikes, pursuit of elegance, demand of communication, and so on, also greatly affected or changed the content of English euphemism. Nowadays, its categories not only include deities and devils, death and diseases, sex and excretion, but also include racial and class origin, occupation and appearance, politics and diplomacy, crime and war, etc. H. L. Mencken, an famous American writer, described euphemism as ”gilded words”, while Stefan Kanfer called it ”cosmetic words”.
There’s no doubt that both of them have given the definite descriptions to of euphemism. As The definition of euphemism given by the Oxford Advanced Learner’s English-Chinese Dictionary is ”an indirect word or phrase that people often use to refer to something embarrassing or unpleasant, sometimes to make it seem more acceptable than it really is”. Generally speaking, English euphemism has been permeating into every aspects of life in western countries as to no one can spend a day without using euphemism.
Euphemism is not only a lingual phenomenon, but also a cultural and social phenomenon (Xiang Rengdong, 2005). This paper will elaborate on the social communicative function of English euphemism in terms of its three main aspects: the evasive function, the polite function, and the disguise function. Having a good understanding of the social function of English euphemism could help us further understand English language and culture, avoiding many conflicts in the process of cross-cultural communication. (Rephrase this. You said it in exactly the same way earlier. ) Social communicative functions of English euphemism English euphemisms are widely used in every aspect of social life. Hugh Rawson, an American famous scholar, has declared that we could not live, even one day, without using euphemisms.
The application of English euphemisms is quite wide and a lot of scholars and professors have made their own classifications. Relay Relying on the positive results, we will study the social communicative functions of English euphemisms through three main aspects, that is evasive function, polite function, and disguise function. . 1 Evasive function The evasive function of euphemism is to evade using taboos words, enabling the speaker to talk about tabooed things freely. Taboo is the main psychological basis of the emergence of euphemism. Euphemism is the avoidance of the unpleasant, inelegant things. When people try to avoid and give up a taboo word, they have to find another word to replace it.
Hence, people created euphemism. The famous sociolinguist, Mr. Chen Yuan, once said, ”Generally speaking, the coming into being of euphemism all begins from taboo. ‘ From the origin of euphemism, we can see that evasion is the first communicative function of euphemism. Euphemism has been used for a long time, and it is closely related to taboo. In fact, euphemism dates back to language taboos in the early period of human civilization. The naming of certain things, such as gods, devils, death, funeral, diseases, nakedness, sex, etc. , was considered taboo. We will unfold evasive function from three main aspects. The first is the euphemisms for deities and devils.
In western nations, the usage of euphemisms in early times originated from religion or admiration and dread of gods. In human’s eyes, God owns a super power that controls everything; he is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent. Thus one cannot mention God’s name or gods’ names casually or use their names to curse or swear; otherwise, one is committing blasphemy. Generally, ”the Creator” ”the Almighty” ”King of Kings” are the common euphemisms westerners use to replace ”God”.
Besides worshipping and revering the deities, western people also show their superstition concerning devils. They are scared to call the names of devils directly in fear of disaster or calamity, for they believe in the old proverb ”Speak of the devil and he appears. ” For example, the Erinyes (or Furies)—who were in black robes, snaked-hair and stoned-heart, holding whip, sword and fire in their hand—were euphemistically described as the Eumenides. The reason was that people thought this could placate the three horrible devils (Liu Chunbao, 2001).
The second aspect of evasive function is the euphemisms for death and diseases. Though science and technology are highly developed today, the word ”death” is a taboo word in all nations. Since death is an inevitable stage at the end of life’s journey, it is the common experience of human beings. Yet it has been the source of fear—fear of the loss of loved ones; fear of the end of one’s life; fear of the actual process of dying. Therefore, all these fears, worries, and unpleasant feelings combined lead to euphemisms of death.
Actually, we are familiar with some euphemisms for death, such as ”to be free,” ” to buy a one-way ticket,” ”to pass away,” or ”to sleep in the Arms of God”. The evasive topics are different in different times and different cultures, but the fears of diseases are the same. In order to ease the mental load of the patients reduce their psychological stress level, and strengthen their confidence to overcome the diseases, westerners adopt a series of euphemistic expressions. For example, when somebody falls ill, westerners often use ”to be off color,” ”to feel off,” or ”under the weather”.
The third aspect of evasive function is the euphemisms for physiological phenomena relating to sex, reproduction and excretion. These words are highly restricted because they may evoke responses of disgust in people. Verbal taboos on these words are probably motivated by intuitive shame. People tend to use some implied or neutral words to make conversation comfortable. For ordinary people, the safest way to avoid embarrassment when, in many circumstances, they have to refer to these things is to use euphemisms.
The three aspects of evasive function need to be developed in detail. 2. 1. 1 The euphemisms for deities and devils In ancient times, people could not understand the causes of natural phenomena, diseases and disasters, thus they created deities and devils, considering they were the dominators of all the things on earth and the fountainheads of good and bad fortune. Therefore, deities and devils could not be blasphemed and everything related to them had to be be held in awe and veneration as well as tabooed. The Ten Commandments” of the Christian Bible has prescribed, ”Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. ” In spoken English, using ”God” casually would be considered blasphemous. If someone says ”God damn it”, he will be seen as a traitor and heretic, and will be punished. (This in not generally true. Most people have said this. ) Generally speaking, the euphemisms related to the deities are composed by three main methods.
One is the phonetic method, such as deliberately reading??? ”God” as ”Gad” ”Gosh” ”Golly” ”Godfrey”, etc. The second is the transliterating method, such as abbreviating ”Jesus Christ” to ”J. C. ” or changing ”Christ” to ”X,” ”XP,” or ”Xt”. Another is the semantic method, eulogizing ”God” as ”the Creator,” ”the Maker,” ”the Saviour,” ”the Almighty,” ”the Supreme (Being),” ”the Eternal,” ”Holy One,” ”Our Father,” ”King of Kings,” ”Lord of Lords,” ”the Light of the World,” ”Sovereign of the Universe,” etc. (2001).
Besides worshipping and revering the deities, western people also show their superstition in their belief in devils. They are scared to call the names of the devils directly in fear of disaster or calamity, for they believe in the old proverb ”Speak of the devil and he appears. ” (This is exactly the same thing you said before—the same wording. ) ”The Adversary”, which means the public enemy of mankind, is used instead of ”Satan”. Both ”The Black One” and ‘The Gentleman in Black” are coming from the cloth colour of Satan because he is always in black silk. ‘Old Boy” and ”His Sable Majesty” bear the bantering sense while ”the deuce” and ”the dickens” are usually used in some cursing and stressing statements. In addition, there are some other popular euphemisms of the devil, such as ”Old Herry” ”Prince of Darkness” ”Old Nick”, etc. We can’t refrain from talking about ”hell” when we refer to the ”devil”. ”Ding-dong bell” is one euphemism as the ”bell” and ”hell” are rhymed and it often appeared in spoken English in the 20th century. ”The bottomless pit,” ”Hades,” ”hot place,” and ”Jesse” all originate from the Bible and are still used in spoken English today.
Besides, ”the lower place” and ”the uncomfortable place” are all used in western countries today. 2. 1. 2 The euphemisms for death and diseases Every country has its own euphemisms for death, and as in other counties, the English-speaking countries have various kinds of euphemisms for death to avoid mentioning it directly. In addition, diseases are also the big avoidance. Whether easterners or westerners, both forbid the mention of death and diseases and use euphemisms to replace them in the social communication. Euphemisms concerning death are extremely rich.
In English, there are a large number of euphemisms for ”death”, including ”to be all over with somebody,” ”to be free,” ” to buy a one-way ticket,” ”to cross the bar,” ”to go beyond,” ”to hop the twig,” ”to pass away,” ”to wink out”, etc. The daisy is a common wild flower planted in the graveyards of the United Kingdom and America; therefore there are many euphemisms centered on daisies, such as ”to be under daisies,” ”to turn up one’s toes to daisies,” ”to count daisies,” ”to grain at the daisy-roots,” ”to kick up daisies,” or ”to push up the daisies”.
As death is caused by different factors and mentioned in different situations, we will talk about it from eight primary aspects. The first aspect is religious euphemisms of death, such as ”to sleep in the Arms of God,” ”to be in Abraham’s bosom,” ”to go the way of all flesh,” ”to join the Great majority,” ”to pay the debt of nature’,’ ”to sleep the big sleep,” and so on. The second is military euphemisms of death, such as ”to be present at the last roll call,” ”to kiss the dust,” ”to do one’s bit,” ”to fire one’s last shot,” ”to lay down one’s life,” and so on (Yang Caiying, 005). The third is hospital euphemisms of death, such as ”to be out of pain,” ”to breathe one’s last,” ”to pull the plug,” ”to put somebody out of his misery,” and so on. The fourth is maritime euphemisms of death, such as ”to be gone to Davy Jones’ locker,” ”to have gone under,” ”the last voyage,” ” to slip one’s rope,” and so on. The fifth is telecommunications euphemisms of death, such as ”to be cut off,” ”to ring off,” ”no May day,” and so on.
The sixth is financial euphemisms of death, such as ”to cancel one’s account,” ”to hand in one’s account,” ”to pay one’s debt to society,” ”to settle all scores,” and so on. The seventh is theatre and cinema euphemisms of death, such as ”to drop the curtain,” ”to fade away,” ”to quit the scene,” ”to switch the light,” and so on. The last is sporting and gambling euphemisms of death, such as ”to be out of the game,” ”to cash in,” ”to jump the last hurdle,” ”to run one’s race,” and so on (Liu Chunbao, 2001).
Disease is another fear of man and most westerners avoid talking about some serious diseases. For example, when somebody falls ill, they often use ”to be off colour,,” ”to feel off,” or ”under the weather”; ‘vomiting is replaced by ”to be seasick,” ” to lose a meal,” or ”to drive French horses”, ‘diarrhea by ”L. A. Belly,” or ”quick step”, ‘pneumonia, by ”the old man’s friend”, tuberculosis by ”breast complaint” or ”white plague”, insanity by ”to be not all there” or ”nervous breakdown”.
Moreover, cancer is one of the most serious diseases that people avoid mentioning directly, so they use ”the Big C” or ”prolonged illness” to replace it. Of course, there are also many euphemisms to describe venereal diseases such as ”Cupid’s itch,” ”ladies’ fever,” or ”social disease”. 2. 1. 3The euphemisms for physiological phenomena Language is the tool for exchanging thoughts. People may be unable to express their ideas directly because of the time, place, person, or thing itself being discussed, such as some parts of the human body, sexual behaviour, excretion or reproduction.
If all these things are referred to without any taboo, people will feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, even be offended. The speaker himself or herself also will be viewed as vulgar and not exercising self-restraint. In Chinese peoples’ eyes, westerners are quite open-minded, yet this does not mean that they talk about all the words related to sex freely. Except for some medical terms in a special situation, they may use euphemistic words to talk about sex.
The sexual practice is called ”to make it” or ”to play doctor”; ”Sexual knowledge” is often called ”facts of life”; ”pornographic movies” are called ”adult films” or ”X-rated films”; ”cohabitation” is called ”trial marriage,” ”common-law marriage,” or ”’to live together as man and wife”. Moreover, with the sharp increase in the rate of divorce, there appeared many euphemisms for divorce, such as ”to break up,” ”to split up,” and ”matchruptcy”.
Homosexuals would be called ”finger artists” ”funny” or ”vert”; a prostitute is called ”bachelor’s wife,” ”B-gir,l” or ”forty-four”; a client is called ”John,” ”trick,” or ”score”. ”Illegitimate child” is referred to as ”lover’s child,” even the illicit relationship between man and woman can be denoted with only one word, ”affair”. Words referring to birth are also seldom mentioned directly because they make people think of sex.
Reproduction is important to human beings, but usually women are too shy to say that they are pregnant, so there are some interesting euphemisms for pregnancy. When a woman is pregnant, she is described as ”eating for two,” ” in a delicate condition,” ”an expecting mother,” or ”to have one watermelon on the vine”; the newborn child is called a ”blessed event,” ”little newcomer,” or ”a little thing”. All words concerning excretion except tears are considered taboo words. For example, the embarrassing farting is called ”a backfire,” ”to break wind,” ”to drop a rose,” or to shoot a rabbit”.
There are also many ways to express ”urination” and ”defecation”, such as ”to go to the bathroom,” ”to do one’s business,” ”to answer the call of nature,” ”to powder one’s nose,” etc. Then as the place for urination and defecation, the lavatory has lots of expressions, such as ”water closet,” ”cloakroom,” and ”restroom”. In America, ”convenience station” appears in written English, while ”bathroom” is more common in oral English; ”John” is slang, while ”poet’s corner” is a crack joke.
In Britain, they use ”Jakes” instead of ”John” and ”public comfort station” instead of ”public convenience station”; men’s lavatory is called ”Gent’s” and women’s lavatory is called ”Ladies” or ”Mrs. Jones”. In addition, menstruation is the physiological phenomenon of sexually mature females which people have avoided mentioning for thousands of years, for instance, westerners often use ”the curse of Eve,” ”bloody Mary,” ” monthly blues,’ ”Little sister is here,” or ”problem days”. Moreover, perspiration is also included in the category; the euphemistic expressions are ”dripping,” ”to lather” or ”to perspire”.
Courtney from Study Moose
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