The study deals with euphemisms in politics and scrutinizes the current role ofpolitically correct vocabulary in the functioning of the English language. In the twentiethcentury, the social-political public sphere was an important supplier of lexicon andphraseology, a source of origin of new word formation models and elements.
It is worthwhileto note that political neologisms, which include a significant number of euphemisms, make13% of all the new vocabulary of modern English 1, p. 53. In my essay I intend to showthat euphemisms can both contribute to the positive and progressive changes in the societyand at the same time serve as tools for deception and the source misleading doublespeak. Ishall argue that the distinction of politically correct vocabulary from deceptive andhypocritical language is extremely important.Political euphemisms relevant for modern English were firstly used in bourgeois press,as a way of describing capitalist reality: capitalism was framed as free enterprise; starvationwas described as undernourishment, etc. The first euphemisms are considered to be suchpassive forms as «made redundant», «it has long been known that…», etc.
R. Macaulay notesthat such «writing was savagely attacked by George Orwell, who particularly disliked the useof the passive voice, since it leaves unstated who is responsible… Six hundred people weremade redundant at the Smith works last week makes it seem as if this just happened, without human intervention. In actual fact, some powerful, rational, warm-blooded human beings satdown and decided to fire six hundred people» 2, pp. 105 – 106.
Another euphemisticconstruction, often used to obscure the agent, is nominalization, when the effect achieved isthe same and the event is described as inevitable and objective: The dismissal of all thepersonnel of AeroSvit was announced yesterday.The speculation on the Gulf War of 1991 was one of the first major contributors to theeuphemistic domain of linguistics in the last century: «The English Guardian Weeklypublished a list of expressions used in the British press to refer to the two sides in the GulfWar. We have reporting guidelines, they have censorship; we take out or eliminate, theydestroy and kill; we launch first strikes preemptively, they launch sneak missile attackswithout provocation; our planes suffer a high rate of attrition, their planes are shot out of thesky» 2, p.
106. Since Noam Chomsky, linguists take great interest in cases of euphemisticand misleading framing that politicians resort to. The use of euphemisms borders onwithholding or skewing the information worthwhile for the public sphere. As a result, thepublic sphere is subjected to bias and the consequent decision making is impaired by vestedinterests and partisan views.Today political euphemisms are widely spread especially in the political press and areused to denote different political notions correctly. The following categories of politicaleuphemisms, describing people, are traditionally distinguished: 1) politically correcteuphemisms calling the invalids and sick persons: deaf person = person with hearingimpairment; cancer patient = patient with cancer; 2) politically correct euphemisms denotingsexes: man = human being, human, person, individual; 3) politically correct euphemismsdenoting the sexual minorities: homosexual = a person with different sexual orientation;4) politically correct euphemisms denoting age groups: the aged = older adults, older people;5) politically correct euphemisms denoting racial and ethnic groups: Negro = AfricanAmerican.
In the political sphere of communication euphemisms appear to be controversialin their origin and pragmatic characteristics. On the one hand, euphemisms develop andimprove the cultural sensitivity (CS) and political correctness (PC) of discourse. On the otherhand, political euphemisms may be a form of delusion and doublespeak.
Firstly, we would like to consider PC/CS terms where the euphemism is inextricablylinked to the problem of taboo. CS/PC terms comprise typical English terms used in a newset of combinations to avoid evident reference to gender, race, sexual preference, disabilities,and ethnicity. Thus, CS/PC terms seem to function as euphemisms of alternative names thathave become taboo 3, p.
390.The term taboo (ta meaning «mark», bu meaning «exceedingly») is of Polynesianorigin, specifically from Tongan, where it denotes anything linguistic and nonlinguistic thatis prohibited or forbidden 4, p. 34.
In theoretic linguistics, taboo is related to a situation «inwhich a word or name can be used in a community only under special conditions, whetheronly by certain persons or only in certain circumstances» 5, p. 65.Nevertheless, there is enough evidence to assume that the use of taboo terms in periodsof crisis and hardship is an important emotional compensation for those speakers and hearerswho dare to break the taboo. This type of behavior, which is often considered to be the signof a disfavored social group, is quite common, for example, in military service and in prisonand prison-camp settings.
In any case, taboo exists in all societies, ranging from the mostprimitive to the most civilized and modern 4, p. 56. Yet, beyond the broad guidelinesreferred to above, who determines which terms are to be considered taboo? Adler contendsthat taboo in modern society is «dictated by the upper, the ruling class» 4, p. 40. For current CS/PC usage, it is not clear who, if any one group is indeed dictating usage. Perhaps it is thislack of clarity of source that evokes objections from particular groups, or perhaps objectionsarise because the source is perceived to have originated in a context that does not intersectwith the group of speakers who object to CS/PC terms 3, p. 395.The nonlinguistic issues of PC/CS terms’ application involve ethnic, racial, genderbased,and other problems in our modern world, which are the consequences of inequality,prejudice, oppression, and other injustices in contemporary world.
These are crucial tensionsthat deserve serious solutions. On the other hand, there is a question that must be addressedin this context – does a linguistic response, lexical substitution, solve the extralinguisticproblems in our society or even facilitate future solution of such problems? Any possibleanswer to this question necessarily involves discussion of the relationship between languageand thought. Does lexical usage determine or change the way in which a speaker views theextralinguistic world? These questions have been speculated on throughout the history ofphilosophy, linguistics, psychology, anthropology, and semiotics.Edna Andrews claims that «Peircean semiotic theory gives a framework that allowslanguage to be perceived as one of many potential sign systems that serve to organizeperceptions of the world around us. In other words, Peircean theory defines language as asemiotic system that is necessarily derived from and defined within the context of a larger,nonlinguistic sign system» 3, p. 392. This way Peircean view is similar to Vygotsky’squintessential claim that language organizes thought 6, p. 31 – 33.
It becomes overt thatlanguage can be used to be for inhibiting in inducing change as it is also, most recognizably,a system of conventions in the Saussurean and Peircean sense. Therefore, although languageis both separable and separate from thought 7, p. 44, linguistic usage can templateextralinguistic reality in a somewhat rigid fashion. Thus, initiating cultural change vialinguistic change is a reasonable deduction.
The relationship between language and thought is necessarily of a relative nature.Supporters of the strong connection between language and thought claim that modifiedlexical usage of common and proper names will most certainly change perception within thetargeted speech community. Likewise, it would seem that one of the reasons for the vocalnegative reaction by some groups against using CS/PC terms puts these groups into the samecamp vis-a-vis the nature of language – that is, they, too, seem to be convinced that there is avery strong implicational relationship between language and thought. Therefore, they rejectthese new terms in the fear that (1) these terms may eventually change the social order or that(2) they will not change the social order, but the use of euphemism in these instances is aform of social or political punishment and infringement of individual rights 3, p. 393. Theinfluence of using a euphemism rather than taboo can be demonstrated the following way(Fig. 1): At the same time, the process may be reversed, i.e.
initial reality which presupposedsocial or any other injustice changed for better and the taboo word becomes obsolete. Thisobsolescence of a taboo word creates extralinguistic necessity for a new word. Perhaps, wedo not use the word ?man? for person not because of advocacy and a small vocal group offeminists but because of the eradication of the patriarchal society and establishment of equalopportunities.
It is unequivocal that there should always be some possibility to change theinitial reality for the new politically correct term to emerge. At the same time, CS/PC termsinduce this first impulse to change the image of the reality and reality itself.One would imagine that many of the current CS/PC terms have arisen as suggestionsgiven by those particular speech communities. In many cases, these communities willoverlap and involve multiple subsets of communities. It may appear that it would be personswho chair departments that decided what they would like to be called or members of the firedepartment who decide what they would like to be called. However, it probably is not truethat the majority of persons who chair departments or the majority of members of the firedepartment or postal service decided which name is CS/PC.
Perhaps the proposal came froma small, but vocal, minority. This may well be the case with some of the CS/PC terms. Theusage of CS/PC terms is, in this regard, a reaction to and an attempted solution forreincorporating into our society those persons who have become increasingly alienated as theparameters of inequality increase and deepen. The multifaceted problems associated withCS/PC show the dynamic interplay of linguistic signs as they act and react within theconstantly changing social context 3, p.
401 – 402.Apparently, not all CS/PC terms are equal in their significance and propriety. SomeCS/PC terms appear to be distorted and awkward, while others are generally perceived assimple and stylistically elegant. We posit an assumption that CS/PC terms may be dividedinto two major groups: 1) legitimate euphemisms, recognized by the majority of people andbased on eradicating injustice; 2) illegitimate euphemisms, recognized by a small minorityand not dealing with elimination of any injustices.
As you can see, illegitimate euphemismscan border on doublespeak if used to mislead the audience.J.D. Sadler wittily recounts: «Some years ago, when George Smathers was running forthe Senate in Florida against Claude Pepper, he made terrible accusations before some of hisaudiences. «Years ago my opponent came to our fine state university and he even