Friday, October 19, 2007

You're not being kicked off the course...we're thinning out the class

Euphemism is a wonderful thing. At least it is until you get shot by an American soldier and they call it friendly fire, or you lose your job and find you haven't been sacked but the company has downsized. But it can be great when you suffer memory failure over a piece of work you say you handed in but know that you didn't, or suffer a Janet Jackson-esque wardrobe malfunction which is actually a case of indecent exposure. Hiding the horrible truth of death, redundancy, toilet functions or prejudice is what euphemism is all about.

An article in yesterday's London Paper which is so cheap it doesn't actually feature the story online, and an article from last month's Times here take a look at euphemism and its uses. Quoting a new book by John Ayto on the topic of euphemism, The Times article gives some nice examples of business-speak which hide the truth under layers of verbal gibberish:

Rather than fire workers, a company “down-sizes”, “rationalises” or “implements a skills mix adjustment”. Rather than admit to losing money, the accountants will report “negative cash flow”, “net profit revenue deficiencies”, or the mind-bending “negative contributions to profits”. Businessmen talk about “preserving optionality” – finance-speak for “doing nothing”.
And for a view on euphemism from 20 years ago, try this link to an article from Bernard Levin

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA5 - Language Change

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