My last post I talked a little bit on the term of euphemism. So I figured I shall expand on that. This post will be easier for me, since I have talked about euphemisms and used them for a couple of my college classes. I’ll take the easy route and copy and paste an essay I did regarding euphemisms. Hopefully you’ll find it informative.
Euphemisms in language have been around for years. Although the use of euphemisms will never go away, there are some words and subjects that should not be euphemized. Some subjects have a sense of seriousness to them that should not be made to sound any worse than it actually is. Serious euphemisms cross over many subjects. I will focus on three subjects, military euphemisms, prison euphemisms, and some medical euphemisms. The three subjects that are not completely related, to show how euphemisms can extent over different areas of language.
The military is great for their use of euphemisms. But the problem with the military is they create euphemisms for everything they do, and this includes serious terms that should not be softened.
To start things off, whenever our military is activated to go to war, one of the first terms taken away is the term of war. Although the public refers to them as wars, the military with the help of the government, wars are quickly hidden under different terms. Going back to the Korean War, it was referred to as a police action. The next war that came through was the Vietnam conflict. Although the next couple wars, the Gulf war (Operation: Desert Storm) and war in Afghanistan are referred to as wars. The latest war in Iraq is being called Operation: Iraqi freedom. All these were wars, regardless what you refer them to, so there shouldn’t be a reason to be called anything else.
We have been in the age of nuclear weapons for over fifty years. We know how powerful these weapons can be due to the testing and the usage of these weapons dropped on Japan during World War II. With advancements in technology, it’s not a surprise we don’t hear the terms of A-bombs or H-bombs. But the problem comes with the renaming of some of the newer technologies. They refer to the group as devices, instead of even calling them bombs (Rawson 76). Two examples of different names are low yield thermonuclear device, or called a 5-megaton device (Rawson 77). The problem with these names is they hide how powerful these devices can actually be. The power behind these devices is equal to a million tons of dynamite. Some devices can be hidden behind the name of a tactical nuclear weapon. This essentially is another name for a mini nuke. The power of these weapons can be summarized in these quotes: “Even the tactical nuclear weapons supposedly designed for ‘limited’
wars were not an answer…some of these ‘small’ weapons carried a punch five times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.” (Sorensen 165) “The main difference between strategic and nuclear weapons is the difference in range. Tactical Nuclear weapons have a shorter range but are sometimes more powerful than strategic weapons…the use of 10% of the 7000 United States tactical nuclear weapons in Europe would destroy the entire area where such massive nuclear exchanges occurred.” (Center)
The final area of military that I will touch on is how they handle the death of people during a war. In war there are two types of people that are killed, active military soldiers and civilians. With military soldiers they are killed in action, they don’t deny it. But the problem comes when soldiers are killed on accident by their own side. This death is called friendly fire (Rawson 116). Besides being a euphemism, this term is also an oxymoron. There is no such thing as friendly fire when it means death by a gunshot wound. Civilians killed during wartime have a more hidden term. Anytime an innocent civilian is killed, they are referred to as collateral damage (Rawson 52). This term does not come even close to defining the severity of its meaning.
The prison system has had many changes throughout the years, as well as the language used. The first stop is in the name of the prison system itself. While the name of prison is still being used, most facilities have changed their names to Correctional Facilities (Rawson 61). Even the National Prison Association has changed its name to correspond with the new prison change and have become the American Correction Association. The following was noted in 1972 in “The Official Report of the New York State special commission on Attica: Effective July 8, 1970…there were no more prison; in their places, instead, stood six maximum security “correctional facilities.” The prison wardens became “institutional superintendents”…and the old-line prison guards awakened that morning to find themselves suddenly “correctional officers.” No one’s job or essential duties changed, only his title. Certainly the institutions themselves did not change…To a man spending fourteen to sixteen hours a day in a cell being “rehabilitated,” it was scarcely any comfort and no reassurance to learn that he was suddenly an inmate in a correctional facility instead of a convict in a prison. (Mitford 84)
There is also a different type of prisoner. This person is held for political reason instead of criminal reasons. These prisoners are referred to as detainees (Rawson 75). These detainees are arrested and then put into detention (Rawson 75). Detention, although sounds innocent enough actually refers to imprisonment without trial. So technically, being a detainee is worse than being a convict in a prison because a detainee has committed no crime and is being held in a prison without having a proper trial. Detainees are not in foreign countries and can happen in our own country as proven by New York Post columnist James A Wechsler’s response to his ‘Improved’ FBI dossier: My file reveals that from June 1942 until February 1945, I was on the FBI director’s list of Americans targeted for ‘custodial detention’…(Lavine, Wechsler)
There is a crime that is committed, that works into the medical field. This crime is rape (Rawson 23). The act of forcing someone to have sex against their will. A very serious crime which most of the victims are women. But the term is not used as often anymore, instead it’s replaced with a softer term, so not to make it seem like such a serious issue. The most common use is calling it an assault, usually a sexual assault, or other times possibly referred to as an improper or indecent assault. Although referred to in different terms, such an act should not be made to sound like it’s not as horrible as it actually is.
Rape does deal in the medical sense cause of the attack on the victim, usually ending in medical treatment in an Emergency Room. And when dealing with medical issues, euphemisms are once again used and again making events sound better than it should. Such a medical issue is abortion. The problem with the term abortion is that everyone thinks that it means intentionally killing the fetus, which it doesn’t. Abortion in general is the death of a fetus, but doesn’t mean purely intentional. But because the term has been deemed such, the reference to when an unborn fetus occurs that is not intentional; the term is called a miscarriage (Rawson 183). But a miscarriage is an abortion, but because of the common misconception we separate them do to the sound of one being nicer to deal with.
But the euphemistic term surrounding an abortion has gotten to the point of choosing for or against an intentional abortion sounds nearly the same. One is pro life, the other being pro choice.
To someone who doesn’t follow closely to the subject of abortion, it would be difficult to tell the difference. With pro life being against someone having an intentional abortion, and pro choice is for having an intentional abortion. Even having an intentional abortion, in some cases it’s not referred to as an abortion. Some people refer to the procedure as a criminal or an illegal operation. Not voicing an opinion on whether or not I agree or disagree with an intentional abortion. It should be made clear that ending the life of an unborn fetus should not sound as calm and not so serious sounding pro choice. From the aspect of intentional abortion being bad, the sound of the act mustn’t be referred to as if it sounds like what was done wasn’t really done.
Lastly, I will enter the world of the doctor. Not all doctors are perfect, no person is. But there are events in which the doctor makes a mistake. In some cases, this can cause serious problems. Uncommon cases causing the death to a patient, a big problem. This was known for a long time as malpractice. Once again, this term cannot hide from being euphemized and made to sound a lot less severe. The issue of improper treatment by a doctor became a therapeutic accident (Rawson 280). If it resulted in death, it maybe referred to as a terminal episode, possibly therapeutic misadventure due to negative patient care (Lutz 230).
Euphemism can be infectious. In our changing world, in which we feel the need to protect ourselves from everything bad, we should be cautious of what we protect ourselves from. There is a certain level in which we must not run away from certain actions. Changing the wording for certain actions or objects does not change the actual meaning. Trying to hide or conceal how bad a meaning is by making it sound nicer should not be done. We must accept the reality of such things and not try to replace them because they scare us, instead they should be embraced and face them as they are.
While I hope no one decides to steal this for their own use, and if you do, I hope you get caught doing so. The only issue would be if you needed a works cited, then you’d have issues since I didn’t put them here.
My inspiration for this topic comes from the great comedian George Carlin. For the bit that got me inspired see the following video, caution strong language: