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JR Lopez Gonzales 11:08 AM 5

Yesterday, as my way of closing the semester’s classes, I told my students that it will be our last meeting. A female student of mine was quick to correct me and said that I should not use the word, “last” as it denotes death and sounds too harsh and unpleasant.

I simply smiled and told this story.

Once upon a time, a woman went abroad to work leaving her daughter, her aged father, and their cat. Years after, she went back and upon seeing that her daughter was alone in the house, she asked her little girl where their pet cat is.

The little girl quickly responded: “It’s dead”. The woman, who apparently was shocked upon hearing the depressing news, scolded her little girl: “You should have said it in a more gentle way. You may slowly tell the news this way: It was a gloomy night, got nothing to do, the cat climbed to the roof. He happily strode toward the edge of the roof, but accidentally slipped and unfortunately fell to the ground… ”

The woman, seeing the now-forlorn face of her little girl inquired: “By the way, where’s your lolo?” Gently, the little girl said: It was a gloomy night, got nothing to do, lolo climbed to the roof. He happily strode toward the edge of the roof, but accidentally slipped and unfortunately fell to the ground… ”

After telling them the story, I told the class, that one’s choice of words can definitely affect a conversation. While beating around the bush may be required at times, it can also be too risky.

A word or phrase used in place of a term that might be considered too direct, harsh, unpleasant, or offensive is called “euphemism”. Euphemisms are generally good words; but not at all times.

On this speech I’ll give to you my three warnings on using euphemisms.

First warning: some euphemisms sound too awkward.
Sometimes being outspoken is better than sounding too cumbersome.
Let’s take the word “fat”. Many people don’t like to use that word.
For me, fat is fat. Not chunky, obese, or big-boned.

"Fat" does not refer to "chunky".
Chunky refers to corned beef. Obese is a medical term while dinosaurs are big-boned.

Same with the word “thin”; I am thin. Definitely not skeletal, slim, or bony. The skeletal system. Bony refers to bangus. Chances are slim. An ugly person is an ugly person. Not a person with a severe appearance deficit.

I’ve always liked the idea of feminism and its move on making nouns neuter like changing the word businessman changed to “businessperson”. But sometimes it has gone way off and sounded too awkward, too. Should we change the word people person to “person’s person”, or manhole cover to “personhole cover”, or best man to best person? I think not.

Aside from sounding too awkward, some euphemisms have become a form of a lie. This brings us to the second warning: some euphemisms trick us about reality.
These words cover the natural process and hide our humanity.
Just this morning, my classmate in our law class celebrated her birthday. I asked her age and she smilingly answered: “I am 42 years young”.

People are so afraid of the stigma associated with that word. Imagine how sad the fear of aging that is revealed in that phrase. In order to use the adjective, we have to use the antonym. Aging is natural; it is universal. Maybe the rationale is that, since no one wants to get old, we don’t like that, so we trick ourselves.

On the process of hiding reality, some euphemisms also tend to become too vague. This is my last warning on employing euphemisms: some euphemism can be confusing. Sometimes these words defeat their purpose by becoming unclear and ambiguous.

Nowadays,

Barber = Hair scientist
To fart = to break wind
False teeth = Dental appliance
Drug addiction = substance abuse
Library = learning resource center.

A “cripple” is a cripple. It’s a perfectly honorable word. There’s no shame in it. It’s even in the Bible: “Jesus healed the cripples”. He did not engage in rehabilitative strategies for the physically disadvantaged.

Also, with regards to euphemisms, it can obviously seen in the Filipino attempts to be “conservative”. It definitely has some drawbacks. A schoolgirl was taught by her parents that her genital should be referred to as a “flower”. I won’t be telling you to picture out what the little girl drew on the board after being asked by their arts teacher to draw a flower.

In wrapping up, most of the time it is better to see things the way they are and not the way some people wish they were. While our time calls us to be politically correct, sometimes it is way better to speak honestly and fairly. It is advantageous to call a spade a spade.

I will now get out of this podium; but that may sound too strong a word.
So, pardon me as I will now engage myself in a voluntary leaving of this raised wooden platform to make a conscious effort to audibly perceive sounds from the serious discourses of other toastpersons.

We don't do a lot of drinking in Toastmastering.
The following is my speech delivered at the Iligan Toastmaster’s Meeting at Unde Hall, CBAA Building, MSU-IIT last March 12.

Picture Credits:

Hey, let's bust plagiarism!
I've provided you the format for citing this article (available in MLA Style):

MLA (Humanities Style)
JR Lopez Gonzales. "Euphemism: Triple Warnings on Doublespeak" PoliTikalon: The Official Weblog of JR Lopez Gonzales. 14 March 2011. http://politikalon.blogspot.com/2011/03/euphemism-triple-warnings-on.html (write here your date of access).


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5 comments Euphemism: Triple Warnings on Doublespeak

  1. There are times when euphemisms are appropriate. As others would say that there are always better ways of saying things. But i guess it is also cultural for Filipinos. We want everything said to be subtle or else our pride is affected right away. Unlike westerners when they can just accept what is said right away

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  2. Yes. I got to agree with you, Ma'am Emile. Euphemisms are needed in many times not to sound to direct or harsh yet, like many things, it should be held in moderation. Too much euphemism can kill you. :)

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  3. We want to please than to offend. Society rewards "niceties" and the bandwagon. The bad side is we don't learn from "niceties" and the rule of the crowd. We learn from honesty and honesty involves being truthful to who we are, what we did and what we can change. It is applicable to the human race. Entertainment or pleasantries are cheap imitations of truth and sincerity.

    ReplyDelete
  4. great! i like this one! being too euphemistic can drive you crazy. you might end up in a situation where you have to "pause" in the middle of your speech just to think of a not too hard word.

    ain't that crazy?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think I know the inspiration this blog post came. It's from George Carlin's speech on euphemism. That guy is in my book a legend in public speaking and telling the truth without BS!!

    ReplyDelete

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