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Проектная работа Эвфемизмы. Разработала Усольцева Дарья Андреевна, 9 класс. МОУ «Лицей №26», г. Подольск



Предпросмотр презентации к проектной работе




1.     Introduction


There are words in every language which people instinctively avoid because they are considered indecent, indelicate, rude, too direct or impolite. Such words are often described in a round-about way, by using substitutes called euphemisms. This device is dictated by social conventions. Euphemisms can be used to hide unpleasant or disturbing ideas, even when the literal term for them is not necessarily offensive. This type of euphemisms is used in public relations and politics where it is sometimes called doublespeak. Sometimes using euphemisms is equated to politeness.

The word “euphemism” comes from the Greek word “euphemo”, meaning “good, fortunate, kind”. Etymologically the eupheme is the opposite of the blaspheme (evil-speaking). Linguists suggest different groups of euphemisms. Such scholars as A.S.Kurkiev, L.P.Krysin, V.P. Moskvin give their classifications of these words. Taking everything into consideration we believe that euphemisms can be divided into several groups according to their spheres of application. The most recognized are the following:

1)     moral

2)     religious

3)     medical

4)     superstitious

5)     political

6)     professional.

In our paper we tried to explain and give examples of these groups, dwell on the concept of political correctness, and attempted to find some examples of euphemisms usage in literature. We also compared the use of euphemisms in English and in Russian.

Thus, the objective of our work is to explain the stylistic device called euphemisms and give examples of their use in everyday speech in the English and Russian languages. To achieve this objective we put forward the following tasks:

-        to acquaint English learners with the concept of euphemisms;

-        to explain the reasons for their appearance in the language;

-        to explain what political correctness is;

-        to look through newspapers offering jobs and find examples of euphemisms in job titles in Russian in comparison with English;

-        to hold a survey among 9th-grade students as to their use of euphemisms;

-        to provide teachers of English with supplementary material to be used in their teaching practice.

Field of research: the vocabulary of the English language.

Object of research: classification of euphemisms and historical events and conditions that brought about their appearance in the language.

The methods of investigation: the descriptive method, the method of classification, the comparative method.

The work has practical significance both for teachers and for students as the information given here will broaden the students’ outlook, enrich their vocabulary and give them motivation for further studying.


2.     Classification of Euphemisms


Neil Postman in his book “Crazy Talk Stupid Talk (New York, Delacorte Press, 1976), suggests that a euphemism is an exalted term used in place of a down-to-earth term, or “an attempt to give prettier term to an uglier reality”.

A great number of euphemisms in English came from the words with Latin roots. After the Norman conquest of England in 1066 the community began to make a distinction between a genteel and an obscene vocabulary, between the French words of the upper class and the lusty Anglo-Saxon of the lower. That is why a duchess perspired and expectorated, while a kitchen maid sweated and spat.

In the mid-19th century, the human form and its functions were so taboo that any words even hinting that people had bodies were banished from the polite discourse. It became impossible to mention legs – you had to use limb, or even better, lower extremity. You couldn’t ask for the breast of a chicken, but instead had to request the bosom, or make a choice between white and dark meat.

Linguists suggest different groups of euphemisms. A.S.Kurkiev distinguishes between five groups of euphemisms: those which appeared because of: 1) superstitions; 2) fear and displeasure; 3) sympathy and pity; 4) bashfulness, shyness; 5) politeness.

L.P.Krysin, in his turn, believes that euphemisms exist in two spheres – in private life and in social life.

V.P.Moskvin claims that euphemisms are used in six functions: 1) to avoid scary objects; 2) to avoid using words denoting unpleasant objects; 3) to change things which are considered indecent; 4) to change the names of places that can frighten people; 5) to disguise the real essence of an object; 6) to change the names of the organizations and job titles which are considered non-prestigious.

Having considered the above mentioned classifications, we have divided euphemisms  into several groups according to their spheres of application. The most recognized are the following:

-        moral

-        religious

-        medical

-        superstitious

-        political

-        professional


3.     Moral euphemisms


Moral  euphemisms may be used in order not to hurt someone’s feelings. For example, a liar can be described as a person who does not always tell the truth and a stupid man can be said to be not exactly brilliant, etc. The English language contains numerous euphemisms related to dying, death, burial, and the people and places which deal with death. The practice of using euphemisms for death is likely to have originated with the magical belief that to speak the word “death” was to invite death. So, a common theory holds that death is a taboo subject in most English-speaking cultures for this very reason. It may be said that one is not dying but fading quickly because the end is near. Contemporary euphemisms for death tend to be quite colourful, and someone who has died is said to have passed away, passed on, bought the farm, kicked the bucket, gone south, gone west, shuffled off this mortal coil (from W. Shakespeare’s Hamlet), etc. When buried they may be said to be pushing up daisies, sleeping the big sleep, checking out the grass from underneath or six feet under. There are hundreds of such expressions in use. One of them is an old Burma jingle: “If daisies are your favourite flowers, keep pushing up those miles per hours”.

Euthanasia also attracts euphemisms. One may put one out of one’s misery, put one to sleep or have one put down. The latter two phrases are usually used with dogs, cats and horses which are euthanized by a veterinarian. Dr. Bernard Nathanson pointed out that the word “euthanasia” itself is a euphemism, being Greek for “good death”.

Another word which produced many euphemisms is lavatory. Here are some of them: powder room, washroom, restroom, retiring room, comfort station, ladies’ (room), gentlemen’s (room), water-closet, wc, public conveniences and even Windsor castle (which is, actually, a comical phrase for wc.).

Pregnancy is another topic for delicate references. Here are some of the euphemisms used as substitutes for the adjective pregnant: in an interesting condition, in a delicate condition, in the family way, with a baby coming, etc.

The life of euphemisms is short. They very soon become closely associated with the object they name. Thus, the apparently innocent word trousers, not so long ago, had a great number of euphemistic equivalents, some of them quite funny: unmentionables, inexpressibles, indescribles, unwhisperables, you-mustn’t-mention ‘ems, sit-upons. Nowadays, however, nobody seems to regard this word as indecent any more, and so its euphemistic substitutes are no longer used.

A landlady who refers to her lodgers as paying guests is also using a euphemism, aiming at half-concealing the embarrassing fact that she lets rooms.

Fiction writers often ridicule pretentious people for their weak attempts to express themselves in a delicate and refined way.  “… Mrs. Sunbury never went to bed, she retired…” (From “The Kite” by W. S. Maugham). To retire in this ironical sentence is a euphemistic substitute for to go to bed. Another lady in “Rain” by the same author, surpasses Mrs. Sunbury in the delicacy of her speech. She says that there are so many mosquitoes on the island where the story is set, that at the Governor’s parties “…all the ladies are given a pillow-slip to put their lower extremities on… (in Russian – нижние конечности). The substitution makes her speech pretentious and ridiculous.

Eating is also regarded as unrefined by some people. Hence such substitutes as to partake of food, to refresh oneself, to break bread, to have a bite.

There are words which are easy targets for euphemistic substitutions. These include words associated with drunkenness, which are very numerous.  The adjective drunk has a great number of such substitutes, some of them delicate, but most comical. For example, intoxicated, under the influence, tipsy, mellow, fresh, high, merry, overcome, full, drunk as a lord, drunk as an owl and others.


4.     Religious euphemisms.


The Christian religion also made certain words taboo. The proverb “Speak of the devil and he will appear” must have been used and taken quite literally when it was first used. And the fear of calling the devil by name was certainly inherited from ancient superstitious beliefs. So, the word devil became taboo, and a number of euphemisms were substituted for it: the Prince of Darkness, the black one, the evil one, dickens, deuce, black lad, black Sam, black gentleman, etc.

The word God due to other considerations, also had a great number of substitutes which can be still traced in such phrases as Good Lord!, By Heavens!, Good Heavens!, My Goodness! Goodness Gracious!

5.     Euphemisms connected with superstitions.


Superstitious taboos gave rise to the use of other type of euphemisms. The reluctance to call things by their proper names is also typical of this type of euphemisms, but this time it is based on a deeply-rooted subconscious fear. Superstitious taboos have their roots in the distant past of mankind when people believed that there was a supernatural link between a name and the object or creature it represented. Therefore, all the objects denoting evil spirits, dangerous animals, or the powers of nature were taboo. If uttered, it was believed that unspeakable disasters would affect not only the speaker but also those near him. That is why all creatures, objects and phenomena threatening danger were referred to in a round-about descriptive way. So, a dangerous animal might be described as the one-lurking-in-the-wood. Thus, people were very much afraid of the bear, which was a really scary animal. In fact, bears kept early northern Europeans in such a fear that they referred to them  by substitute names because people thought that uttering their real name might attract these ferocious beasts. Instead, they talked of the honey eater, the licker, or the  grandfather (in Russian - Михайло Потапович). Naturally, society’s fear of bears had decreased, perhaps simply because people have little chance to encounter them except for in zoos, and therefore there is no longer the need to invent other names for bears.

When mortal diseases were spread all over the country, people naturally were afraid to pronounce the words plague or smallpox, etc. Instead, the expression the black death was used, though the word death itself was a euphemism.


6.     Euphemisms connected with illnesses.


Doctors often use euphemisms in order not to frighten the patients about their illnesses.

Patients who received the condition described as heart failure believed that the illness would have more serious consequences for their life, that it would last longer and people were more anxious and depressed than those who received the condition described using the euphemism. Doctors are encouraged to be open with their patients and to respect them. The choice of language, therefore, presents a dilemma for doctors. The term “heart failure” may be a sign of openness but, on the other hand, may evoke a more negative response from the patient. In contrast, a euphemism may be less open but more protective of the patient’s experience.  That is why instead the doctors say:

-        Your heart is not pumping hard enough.

-        Your heart is a bit weaker than it used to be.

-        Your heart is not pumping properly.

-        Your heart is not working as well as it should, causing pressure on the lungs.

-        Your heart is not as strong as it should be, etc.

Mental diseases also cause the frequent use of euphemisms. A mad person may be described as insane, mentally unstable, unbalanced, not quite right, not quite there, off one’s head, crazy as a bedbug, cuckoo, nutty, off one’s nut, loony, a mental case, a mental defective, etc.

A clinic for such patients can also be discreetly referred to as, for instance, an asylum, sanatorium, (mental) institution, and, less discreetly, as a nut house, loony bin, etc.

In the story by Evelyn Waugh “Mr. Loveday’s Little Outing” a clinic of this kind, treating only very rich patients, is described as large private grounds suitable for the charge of nervous or difficult cases. This is certainly the peak of euphemistic delicacy.

The great number of humorous substitutes found in such groups of words prove particularly tempting for writers who use them for comical purposes, The following extract from the Roald Dahl’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” demonstrates the range of colloquial and slang substitutes for the word mad:

“He’s gone off his rocker!” shouted one of the fathers, aghast, and the other parents joined in the chorus of frightened shouting.

-        He’s crazy! They shouted.

-        He’s balmy!

-        He’s nutty!

-        He’s screwy!

-        He’s batty!

-        He’s dippy!

-        He’s dotty!

-        He’s daffy!

-        He’s goofy!

-        He’s beany!

-        He’s buggy!

-        He’s wacky!

-        He’s loony!

“No, he is not!” said Grandpa Joe.

This is the way people spoke about Mr. Willy Wonka, the owner of the Chocolate factory.


7.     Euphemisms and political correctness.


Political vocabulary contains many euphemistic expressions, one of the most popular is the one denoting war, e.g. armed struggle, conflict, confrontation, counter-attack, incident, intervention, limited action, operation. Nowadays, however, mass media pay a great attention to the, so called, political correctness, which has become the way of life in the USA and in many west-European countries. Politically correct means “socially acceptable”, so as not to humiliate, insult or offend the representatives of any ethnic or social groups of people. For example, “socially acceptable” are the words like African-American instead of unacceptable Negro (black), financially challenged instead of poor, hearing impaired instead of deaf, senior instead of old, etc. So, political correctness isn’t only to alleviate the things as they are, but to correct the real or supposed discrimination. One of the main language means to achieve this aim is euphemisms. Euphemisms help people to avoid situations which can lead to conflicts.  So, politically correct words or terms are used to show differences between people or groups in a non-offensive way. This difference may be because of racegenderbeliefsreligionsexual orientation, or because they have a mental or physical disability, or any difference from what is considered the norm. Thus, people who are blind or deaf may be referred to as vision impaired and hearing impaired. People who cannot speak are never dumb but mute or without speech. The overall terms handicapped and disabled are no longer considered appropriate. Instead,  the term  challenged is used. However, sometimes the terms ending in challenged sound rather ridiculous, for example, someone who is very short might be described as vertically challenged. People also say that things that are obviously bad are called by something else which hides the fact that they are bad. For example, young people who are in trouble with the law, instead of being called juvenile delinquents became children at risk.

Back in the 1990s, lots of jokes were made about “political correctness”, and almost everybody thought they were really funny.  Unfortunately, very few people are laughing now because political correctness has become a way of life in America.  If you say the “wrong thing” you can lose your job or you can rapidly end up in court. We have found some examples of political correctness, though these examples seem rather ridiculous to us:

1. The BBC has dropped the use of the terms Before Christ (BC) and Anno Domini (AD) on one of their programmes and decided that the terms 'Before Common Era' / 'Common Era' are more appropriate.

2. The European Parliament introduced proposals to outlaw titles stating marital status such as 'Miss' and 'Mrs' so as not to cause offence. It also meant that 'Madame' and 'Mademoiselle', 'Frau' and 'Fraulein' and 'Senora' and 'Senorita' would be banned.

3. A school in Seattle renamed its Easter eggs spring spheres to avoid causing offence to people who did not celebrate Easter.

4. A UK council has banned the term brainstorming – and replaced it with thought showers, as local lawmakers thought the term may offend epileptics.

5. A UK recruiter was stunned when her job advert for 'reliable' and 'hard-working' applicants was rejected by the job centre as it could be offensive to unreliable and lazy people.

6. Some US schools now have a 'holiday tree' every year at Christmas, rather than a Christmas tree.


8.     Professional Euphemisms


Political correctness is often used in some job titles. Using euphemisms in job titles helps to reduce the negative attitude to people who do some unpopular jobs of attending personnel. As society can’t do without these professions the only way to attach significance to them is to change their names with the help of a euphemism so that they sounded more pleasant to ear. Job title euphemisms are most closely associated with softening the demeaning nature of a job, so that the employees performing the roles will take greater pride in their work. Workplace euphemisms can be used to create a feeling of solidarity amongst employees and help develop a sense of company belonging. At Disney, for example, every employee is called a Cast Member, irrespective as to whether you are in an accounts department or dressed up as Goofy.

Most euphemisms are used in naming the jobs of a cleaner and a janitor. To empathize the importance of people responsible for cleaning premises or streets instead of garbage collector people use the expressions sanitation man, sanitation engineer or garbologist. Instead of road sweeper they say street orderly, instead of janitorenvironmental hygienist, custodian or building engineer. Accordingly, the place where they keep the things for cleaning is called Custodial instead of Janitorial.

Service staff is also considered to be unpopular. In English they practically don’t use now the word servant as it sounds humiliating. It has been changed by a stylistically neutral word housekeeper, and in American English one can meet the word help which means a person who helps about the house, underlining the fact that the word is done according to a person’s own wish to help.

Euphemisms are also used to change the jobs of some unimportant office clerks. For example, instead of filing clerk (делопроизводитель) in British English one can meet the expression information retrieval administrator; instead of secretary they say personal assistant or administrative assistant; instead of clerk in the law officeservice lawyer is used.

The profession of a teacher is treated now with less respect than it used to be. To express more respect to this profession new euphemisms appeared both for the profession itself and the activity the teachers do. So, teachers turned to be educators, classroom managers, learning facilitators who possess efficient instructional delivery skills that they demonstrate during their microteaching sessions. Pupils don’t study but spend time on tasks in their learning environment.

Some more examples:



exterminating engineer

vermin control officer

rat catcher



vehicle appearance specialist

car washer

nursing-home care assistant



daycare provider

childcare provider


waste management

disposal technician

bin man

information adviser


debt management officer

field force agent

tax collector

vertical transport engineer

lift engineer

wet leisure assistant


welcoming agent


All the examples point out that in society there have always been and still will be low-paid, hard and non-prestigious jobs whose status can be risen only in words. For some people, important sounding job titles are signs of what they are worth, even if their salaries don’t match. However, these euphemistic job titles can cause a lot of arguments whether or not to use them as they cause a lot of misunderstanding.

The unfortunate occasion of being dismissed from employment can be expressed in numerous ways. Some of the most familiar expressions are:

-        to be made redundant

-        to receive a pink slip

-        to be dismissed

-        to be discharged

-        to be laid off

-        to lose one’s job

-        to be fired

-        to be got rid of

-        to be given the boot

-        to get the sack

-        to be sacked, etc.

These homely expressions can be seen in newspaper headlines:

Pentagon gives pink slops to thousands of soldiers, including active-duty officers.

Thousands of Woolworths staff face sack in Christmas week.

Thousands of Doctors fired by United Healthcare.

9.     Euphemisms in Russian


The appearance of euphemisms in Russian is closely connected with the process of globalization, introduction of information technology into different spheres of life and the influence of the world culture. One can notice that the level of aggressiveness in people’s speech has become quite high in recent years and the process of speech euphemisation is becoming the characteristic feature of modern society. Euphemisms lessen the negative characteristic of the message and are used in different spheres of person’s life – in politics, in interpersonal relations, in everyday life, etc. According to the classification of some Russian linguists in Russian as well as in English euphemisms can be divided into several groups:

1)     Religious euphemisms (лукавый instead of дьявол);

2)     Political and economical euphemisms (принцип взаимности instead of око за око, товары повышенного спроса instead of дефицит);

3)     Moral and socially important euphemisms (в интересном положении instead of беременна; афроамериканец instead of негр, лицо с ограниченными возможностями instead of инвалид);

4)     Euphemisms connected with superstitions (уйти в мир иной instead of умереть);

5)     Professional euphemisms (менеджер по клинингу instead of уборщица).

We would like to give more detailed attention to professional euphemisms. As it has been mentioned above, professional euphemisms are not new in English though in the Russian language this phenomenon is comparatively new. We have analyzed the newspapers “Работа для вас”, «Из рук в руки» and the sites |Avito”, Superjob”, “Headhunter” and found out that the first place euphemisms are attached to the professions connected with cleaning: клининг-менеджер, специалист по клинингу, техслужащий, оператор профессиональной уборки instead of уборщик помещений; смотритель, менеджер по уходу за территорией, мастер чистоты, рабочий по благоустройству instead of дворник.

The second place is occupied by jobs of office clerks: экспедитор, специалист отдела доставки instead of курьер; офис-менеджер, ассистент, помощник руководителя instead of секретарь;  менеджер по отгрузке, сотрудник склада instead of грузчик; секьюрити, сотрудник безопасности, специалист по безопасности instead of  охранник; специалист по продажам, менеджер, продавец-консультант, работник кассы, сейлзменеджер instead of  продавец.

The third group of euphemisms names the professions in agriculture: оператор машинного доения, специалист по доению instead of дояр; механизатор, сотрудник транспортного отдела, водитель сельхозтехники instead of тракторист; рабочий сельхозпроизводства, оператор по уходу за животными, работник фермы пастух.

The fourth position is occupied by euphemisms concerning the jobs done about the house: ландшафтный дизайнер, фитодизайнер, рабочий зеленого хозяйства instead of садовник; помощник по хозяйству, управляющий домом, горничная instead of домработница; персональный водитель instead of шофер.

Finally, the last group of jobs subjected to euphemism change belongs to the professions that give different services to people, for example, мастер маникюра, менеджер ногтевого сервиса, менеджер салона красоты instead of маникюрист; стилист, мастер салона красоты instead of парикмахер; дизайнер, конструктор одежды, модельер, портной instead of швея; менеджер ресторана, специалист по работе с клиентами instead of официант.

As we can see a lot of words are changed by their foreign synonyms as euphemisms (дизайнер, менеджер, секьюрити, сервис, etc.). Probably, these words sound more enigmatic and important for a Russian listener. Sometimes people don’t quite understand the meaning of these words, and it disguises the real essence of the job, making it seem more prestigious.


10.  Examples of Euphemisms


Here are some more examples of euphemisms:

  • Correctional facility - jail
  • Departed - died
  • Differently-abled  - handicapped or disabled
  • Fell off the back of a truck  - stolen
  • Ethnic cleansing - genocide
  • Negative patient outcome - dead
  • Collateral damage - accidental deaths
  • Letting someone go - firing someone
  • Put to sleep - euthanize
  • On the streets - homeless
  • Big-boned - heavy or overweight
  • Chronologically-challenged - late
  • Use the rest room - go to the bathroom
  • Economical with the truth - liar
  • Powder your nose - the rest room
  • Between jobs - unemployed
  • Domestic engineer - maid

11.  Survey


At school students also use euphemisms without thinking that they really do it. We made a survey and asked 9th-grade students  if they know what  euphemisms are.  Most respondents couldn’t answer this question, but they were really interested to know what it is.  Immediately an example of a euphemism was given: when pupils want to go to the toilet 100% of those asked said that in this case they ask the teacher: “May I go out?” They believe that the word “toilet” is not good to say aloud in class, so it is changed for this neutral expression.

When asked in what field the euphemisms need to be used, 33% of respondents supposed that euphemisms are necessary in ritual service, 17% - in consumer service, 18% - in medicine 18% - at school and 14% of those asked couldn’t give a definite answer. Thus, according to the survey we made sure that most students think euphemisms are really important in some spheres of life.


12.  Conclusion


Having studied the material about euphemisms, we have come to the conclusion that euphemisms allow us to soften difficult or unpleasant things when we speak, especially to children, or people who might be offended or disturbed by the situation we are talking about. They can be used to shelter children from adult subjects, avoid awkward moments of truth with loved ones, and avoid politically incorrect phrasings in public. Political correctness and politeness are both filled with euphemistic phrases. The high usage of euphemisms by organizations and individuals in formal documents and everyday conversation alike shows how much we value politeness.

No doubt, using euphemisms is not a bad thing if we don’t want to offend people’s feelings. However, we strongly believe that some terms should be named as they are, because in some situations using word substitutes makes the phenomenon sound funny and ridiculous.

In our work we have explained the concept of euphemisms, dwelt on their classification, explained what political correctness is and found the examples of euphemisms usage in Russian and English job titles. However, there is still much to study. Actually, the investigation of this phenomenon is of great importance for complex studying of both, English and Russian and for intercultural communication in order not to be trapped while travelling abroad. The process of forming euphemisms still needs careful and thorough studying as the world around us is constantly changing.

Of course, we couldn’t cover all aspects  of euphemisms forming in this paper, we’ve only touched upon some of them. However, the facts mentioned in it seem to be quite interesting in language learning. That is why we suppose the work has practical value both for teachers and for students as the information given here will broaden the outlook of English learners and enrich their vocabulary. The material of the paper can be used by teachers in their practice.


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