Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Do You Have Toilet Paper For Your Manuscript? If No, Grab A Euphemism

The euphemism really is writer toilet paper. It cleans up a lot of foul stuff for us.  In a generation where people are bullied, bruised, and offended constantly, the euphemism just may be our salvation. Take for example the great American novel, Huckleberry Finn.  They're taking out that ugly word "nigger" and replacing it with "slave". Some call that censorship but maybe they just didn't get the memo that stated everyone needed to be coddled.  So what exactly is this long word and how exactly can it be used to comfort us into entitled bliss?  Well let's examine it with our critical, scholarly eye.

Euphemism (n)--the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt.

It originates from the Greek "euphemismos" or the  "use of a favorable word in place of an inauspicious one," from euphemizein  "speak with fair words," from eu-  "good" + pheme  "speaking," from phanai "speak"

Please...I know you're speechless with admiration at my google-fu so I'll continue.

In ancient Greece, the practice of euphemisms arose from superstitious avoidance of words of ill-omen during religious ceremonies, or through the use of word substitutions such as Eumenides  "the Gracious Ones" for the Furies (divine ass-kickers).

No wonder the English seized upon the use of the euphemism with such gusto. And yes, I see the main difference in language between the Yanks and the Brits (aside from a gorgeous accent) is essentially, euphemisms.

My mom had a pearl necklace. So lovely as pictured here.
Have any of you ladies ever worn a pearl necklace?
But in this day and age where we rely upon China to supply us with everything, how do we create one without an Apple iPhone application?  I knew you'd want to know, so I wrote the four steps of euphemism creation (slightly less fantastic than Biblical creation but both have their place in the world of fiction). I totally stole these from the Chinese factory that makes them. Isn't it exciting? No more euphemisms with that "made in China" stamp on it. Ahem...the steps:
1) Identify the word or word combination that you find offensive and imagine it in context.  Here's my example: Hmmmm...I want to ask those people over there at that funeral who died but without using the word "death" because death is icky.

2) Think about the word. Know it. Feel it. Define it.  In this case, the word is death and it's icky. We look it up in the dictionary and discover: 1) the end of life. 2) the total and permanent cessation of all the functions of an organism.

Okay...I think we know what death is.  Now we grab the trusty thesaurus that we all kept even if Stephen King told us to throw it in the garbage. Who listens to other writers anyhow even if they make a gazillion dollars (gazillion dollars is a euphemism for rich--C whut I did thar)?

3) In this step we examine and pick from either one or any combination of synonyms for the word that we really mean (but which has a softer appeal--think Charmin or Quilted Northern--yes I'm sticking with the toilet paper theme as this whole blog post is essentially, toilet humor). Synonyms as given to us by the thesaurus for the icky word "death" are: afterlife, annihilation, bereavement, casualty, cessation, curtains, darkness, decease, demise, departure, destruction, dissolution, downfall, dying, end, ending, eradication, eternal rest, euthanasia, exit, expiration, extermination, extinction, fatality, finis, finish, grave, grim reaper, heaven, loss, mortality, necrosis, obliteration, oblivion, paradise, parting, passing, passing over, quietus, release, repose, ruin, ruination, silence, sleep, termination, and tomb. 

4) Pick your euphemism.  In this case since it sounds like something that would happen in a library which is very bookish and thus related to writing, I'll pick the word "expired".  So now you can go over to that group of people and ask them "Who expired today?"  Now doesn't that sound so much better than the icky "d" word?  I knew you would agree hee hee.

That's totally not a thumbs up because he just
ate there...ya know?
My favorite euphemisms have to do with female anatomy.  Oh writers of the world...why is the term "passion pit" not popular?  And male anatomy can be just as fun.  I'm particularly fond of the term "administrative leave". just been fired biatch--that's all that means.

Brits have such good ones.  About a fat person, "They're a little broad in the beam, if ya know what I mean."

This is my srs
face cuz writing
iz srs biznizz
Tell me about your euphemism experiences! Oh, and do you use them in your writing? If not, you totally should. Otherwise, someone may be offended at what you write (I know that offending someone will cause you to lose sleep at night, oh my writer colleagues)!


  1. I have not really thought about these- I guess If I were to go back and look- I would probably find them there- because it comes natural in a sense to try and find the right word- since I write poetry and all- I avoid a great many words sometimes. Great post. I'll have to practice and look some more up now that I am aware of them :)

  2. That is pretty stupid about the "n-word"s in Huck Finn. Back in 4th Grade our teacher read it to us and used "Negro" instead. Negro itself is just another euphemism for black. Euphemisms of euphemisms! I like in Mailer's "Naked and the Dead" how they changed "fuck" to "fug" to pass through the censors. Or in some Raymond Chandler stories I'm reading they just use a line in the dialog for naughty words. Euphemisms don't even have to be words! How sweet it is.

  3. Fun post. I'm definitely going to back and look in my own mss for euphemisms.

  4. Haha, this was another funny post. How I hate euphemisms for the most part~ I write bluntly. No euphemisms in my MS.

  5. I think as long as we all try and LOVE and respect one another they'll be no need for euphemisms because people won't insulting one another, but instead celebrating our differences.

    When I see the n-word or any other derogatory terms used against whilte people, asian people etc, it just reminds me that these words for created by people who were incredibly fearful, insecure and jealous of those who didn't look like them.

  6. I believe euphemisms have a place in polite society, but I can't wholeheartedly agree that they are an absolute daily necessity. I feel the public skirts around important issues because they are too difficult to deal with. Life isn't easy, it's mostly difficult. Sure, if they want to remove the word "nigger" from Huckleberry Finn because it's such a terrible word, by all means, go right ahead. Just don't make the copies with that word printed unavailable.

    I feel a word is empowered when its deemed unspeakable. Not to say we should be running around using "nigger" in our daily discourse, but to put a spin on it so our delicate sensibilities aren't offended rather than face reality seems futile.

  7. This was super interesting (and funny--the guy with the thumbs up cracked me up). And "The practice of euphemisms arose from superstitious avoidance of words of ill-omen during religious ceremonies"--cool little piece of knowledge there! Thanks for a fun post :)

  8. I LOVE that jackass card. I'll be using that line. :) I'm not a fan of euphemisms unless they're being used on purpose for comedic effect (a la "passion pit" or "choking the chicken"). Real life ain't always pretty. I much prefer writing that says it like it really is.

  9. Lulz. No one commented on my pearl necklace caption. I hate euphemisms too. I just wanted to pick on them today.

  10. Hmmm, I don't believe I have used any euphemisms in my writing, but point made that I write for the younger audience. So I might use that guy with the thumbs up. As a matter of fact, he's a story. An entire novel. And pearl necklaces? I thought old ladies wore those. *wink*

  11. Do I use euphemisms? Yes, all the time in my day job. Can't say certain things in front of the kiddos.

  12. So funny. Pearl necklace, that's a great one, rather poetic.

  13. Fantastic post! I loved this. I usually avoid euphemisms because they don't seem to fit in my writing at all. I use them more with my husband when we're joking about stuff and if we don't want our daughter to understand what we're saying. She might catch on. That's a scary thought. ;)

  14. Sorry for commenting here a year later, but I'm procrastinating.... Anyway, this was so damn funny! "Passion pit", hahah. I love euphemisms because they can be ridiculously amusing. And that is a nice picture of a pearl necklace. I've never had one. (;