Thursday, August 14, 2008

Euphemisms


I'm short - is that a slur against me? I could surely take it that way, maybe even take it as a real insult. I am "vertically challenged" sounds much better, it's a more sophisticated way of referring to my lack of stature. It kind of makes up for the unfortunate set of genes that I inherited. Of course Midgets don't want to be called midgets - they prefer "little people" (I guess the same goes for dwarf)

Fat or Obese can also be taken as a slur or insult. We shouldn't use the word Obese or Fat. It gives off the accompanying notion of sloth and laziness and a propensity for lack of self-control. Such awful traits. You certainly don't want your child called being called Fat or Obese, it's hurtful to them and certainly a reflection on you as their caretaker. Better to be called "full-bodied" or "full-figured". It makes the reality of body size more acceptable. the same goes for skinny or anorexic. Rather better to say "slim" or "calorie deprived".

Now we also have the discussion of the word "Retard" filling the airways of late, because it is used in a new Ben Stiller movie. So tell me how calling someone "intellectually challenged" is really any different then saying that they are "Retarded"? Both phrases mean the very same thing. Both refer to "slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress" (Merriam Webster Dictionary) No doubt Ben Stiller's movie used the word in a derogatory manner. Such is his unfortunate type of humor, which also appeals to many. Maybe that is what should be attacked rather than the word "Retard" itself.

Using an Euphemism basically just minimizes a painful impression on the hearer.
A harsh truth is sometimes difficult to hear. Unfortunately words are used to mock or insult. It's not the words themselves, but how they are used which really ought to be addressed.

When I was a kid I recall a huge controversy in my town because garbage men didn't want to be called garbage men.. they wanted to be called "sanitation engineers" because they wanted people to have some respect for the job they did (they also wanted higher wages). I always thought it was funny how a change of words made them feel better about the job that they did collecting the garbage. In the end they were still garbage men.

I hear tell "illegal aliens" want to be called "undocumented immigrants". Amazingly - they are still illegal. You could call them "sunny folk" and they would still be illegal. Perhaps calling them "undocumented immigrants" takes the reality and harshness out of the fact that they are here as a result of breaking US law. The euphemism probably gives them a little more respect for themselves and helps to gain them some sympathy. Criminals need love and want to be accepted too.

At the rate we are going, lots of things will begin to qualify as "hate speech". Wiki says:
Hate speech is a term for speech intended to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or prejudicial action against a person or group of people based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, language ability, moral or political views, socioeconomic class, occupation or appearance (such as height, weight, and hair color), mental capacity and any other distinction-liability. The term covers written as well as oral communication and some forms of behaviors in a public setting. It is also sometimes called antilocution and is the first point on Allport's scale which measures prejudice in a society.
So now do we start banning words from the English language because they are offensive to some? Well, we worked very hard to erase ethnic slurs for obvious valid reasons, but now I suppose other words might also be taken as "developmental slurs" and should be rooted out of our lexicon. Short, fat, bald, retarded, ugly, deformed, cross-eyed, buck-toothed. (Republican has even become a bad word in some places; but I digress) There is probably a huge list. Anything that has a negative connotation would be included. Just think of how many words we can replace with nicer sounding descriptions. We can limit our speech and make sure that no one's feelings are hurt ever. We could even eliminate criticism all together. And everyone will live happily ever after. And we can also have the Politically Correct Speech Police out in force.

If we clean up our language will negative or hateful feelings still exist? Yes - but we will have much nicer more palatable ways to express them, and we can also censor so many things.