Friday, May 24, 2013

In a manner of speaking

Ah, euphemisms - you've got to love them. Creative ways of not spelling something out, but giving enough of an indication as to what you're actually referring to. Sometimes (often?) they come into being inadvertently, when people are trying to squirm their way out of a particularly tight and embarrassing spot. Such is the case with most of those compiled in this recent BBC article, which among other things explains the root of that classic journalistic shorthand for "drunk", "tired and emotional". Certainly it's more colourful than "under par", the phrase used by a spokesman when Radio Stoke presenter Paula White had to be taken off air last week...

I recently finished reading The Dead Beat, in which author Marilyn Johnson extols the joys of obituaries. At one point she touches on the fact that they often contain a kind of euphemistic code that allows the author to be covertly critical of or rude about his or her subject in a type of writing that usually takes the form of a tribute. So "sociable" means "alcoholic", "gave colourful descriptions of his exploits" equates to "liar" and "flirtacious" translates as "sex-pest" or "nymphomaniac". Johnson's book (as well as Radio 4's Last Words) convinced me I should start reading obituaries more regularly, and spotting the euphemisms is all part of the appeal.

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