Please Note: Blog posts are not selected, edited or screened by Seeking Alpha editors.

Do Euphemisms Help?

He who must not be named/Voldemort

Do Euphemisms Help? When there is a useful, descriptive word that means what one intends to communicate, is it helpful to replace it with convoluted, indirect words in order to help the feelings of the listener? Some examples of frequently euphemized words that have fallen into some level of disrepute:

  • Black
  • Boy
  • Bum
  • Dead
  • Dumped
  • Fat
  • Girl
  • Fired
  • Man
  • Poor
  • Rich
  • Slum
  • White

These are each a single syllable and mean precisely what they are intended to communicate. There is little wrong with them judged by reason or efficiency. When someone stops being alive, they are dead. Depending upon the amount of melanin produced by melanocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis, one might be called either black or white. Lots of money? Rich. Little or none? Poor. Your employer is done with you? Fired. Able bodied man of working age who does not support his children? Bum. I don't see any problems conveying their meaning.

The problem is with empathy. They can be construed as insensitive, especially to the young. Is this true and is it important? I put this to readers as an open question because I am on weak grounds in terms of answering. I zealously focus on being rational and efficient, but have never been as good at being empathetic and sensitive. There is a cost to avoiding direct language, but is there a durable benefit?

One potential weakness is that the studied avoidance of direct language implies some deep power in such words. Modern American culture is deeply entranced by a certain anti-snobbery snobbery in which people must pretend to not even notice the kinds of differences that we are supposed to respect. This extends to patent dishonesty. Such failure to use readily available words also infantilizes the listener. It implies that he might spontaneously combust were some truth spoken.

If a listener knows a truth and knows that you know a truth, is it still important to pretend that a relevant and useful truth goes unspoken? Should we play pretend games with adults of sound mind to protect their feelings? Maybe. But maybe there is a catharsis in unadulterated reason and efficiency. Maybe people are better and stronger than we are giving them credit for. If we want to acknowledge the importance of both respect and reality, then perhaps both causes could be better served by plain language.

Voldemort, Voldemort, Voldemort.