Euphemisms (Words used to Avoid Offending People)

by Kate Woodford​​​​
We recently looked at the language that we use to describe lies and lying. One area of lying that we considered was ‘being slightly dishonest, or not speaking the complete truth’. One reason for not speaking the complete truth is to avoid saying something that might upset or offend people. Words and phrases that we use to avoid being offensive or upsetting are called euphemisms and there are a great number of them in the English language. Many euphemisms are known by native speakers of English, but are rarely used. Some are used to be intentionally humorous while others are very much part of normal, current English. Here, we focus on the last set – those euphemisms that genuinely are used by English speakers today to express things more gently or politely.

Not surprisingly, some of the most frequently heard euphemisms relate to death. A lot of people do not like to say that someone has died. It sounds too direct, perhaps even a bit shocking. They prefer instead to use the gentler phrasal verb pass away: I’m afraid her mum passed away yesterday. Another euphemistic way to say that someone has died is to say that you have lost someone: She lost her father only recently. Similarly, when people take a very sick or old pet to a veterinary surgeon in order to have it painlessly killed, they often say they have had the pet put to sleep: We’re all sad today, having had our beloved dog, Daisy, put to sleep. Continue reading “Euphemisms (Words used to Avoid Offending People)”

The words of 2011

by Paul Heacock

As the year draws to an end, we make lists: Best Movies of the Year, Favorite Sports Moments and Key Political Events appear in national and international publications; Top Sales Reps or Most-Viewed Intranet Stories show up on corporate websites and in newsletters; many people even send out letters to friends and family detailing their personal “top events” of the year. Lexicographers, too, like to sift through the year’s work, and usually proclaim a Word of the Year. But we felt that a single Word of the Year was too limited. Continue reading “The words of 2011”

Adult and Family Entertainments

by Hugh Rawson

The 2010 Academy Award winning film, The King’s Speech, was toned down for its re-release in the Spring of 2011. And “toned down” literally, as it happens, with the deletion from the soundtrack of  curse words uttered by Colin Firth, who received one of the movie’s four Oscars, for his portrayal of King George VI’s struggle to overcome his stammering.

The scene is – or was – a key one. At the urging of his speech therapist, the King lets himself go, rapidly repeating a forceful, four-letter, Anglo-Saxon expletive a dozen times or more, with a few other epithets thrown in. Artistically and emotionally, the scene was a triumph. But as so often happens, art gave way to commerce. The naughty words were muted so that the movie’s rating could be changed from R, which stands for “Restricted,” to PG-13, where the PG stands for “Parental Guidance.”

Continue reading “Adult and Family Entertainments”