Fowl Talk for Thanksgiving

By Hugh Rawson

“Do you want white meat or dark meat?”

“Dark, please.”

“Would you like a drumstick?”

The key words in this snatch of dinner-table conversation – white meat, dark meat, and drumstick – are used so often when carving up a turkey at Thanksgiving that people tend to forget they are euphemisms: agreeable, round-about words employed in place of ones that are regarded as coarse or offensive. In this case, the “offensive” words are breast, thigh, and leg, words that people in polite society once avoided using, especially when women were present.

The avoidance of plain terms for bodily parts commonly is associated with the prudery of our Victorian ancestors though many of the evasions predate Her ascension to the throne in 1837.  To cite just a few examples from this euphemistically fertile period:  people started saying darn instead of damn, to employ dashes (d – – –) when writing the harsher word, to perspire instead of sweat, to wear unmentionables  instead of  trousers and breeches, to have stomachaches instead of bellyaches, to use nude rather than naked when referring to human figures in painting and sculpture, and to be laid to rest, not buried, in a cemetery (from the Greek word for “dormitory” or “sleeping place”) rather than in a graveyard. Continue reading “Fowl Talk for Thanksgiving”