Thursday, November 11, 2004

My Word!

Dispatch from Nina:

Lesson from the trenches: one has to be supremely cautious when guest blogging, especially when a comments function remains alive. It’s no job for a person whose first language is not English (me!). Eek!

Though, my lack of sensitivity toward shades of meaning thus far demonstrated on this blog is nothing compared with my struggle to keep up with euphemisms, or, more accurately, what Pinker refers to as the “euphemism treadmill” (when a word originally adopted as a euphemism picks up all the negative meaning of the original and I don’t even notice).

Common treadmill examples: “toilet room", itself a euphemism, was replaced with "bathroom" and "water closet", which were then replaced with "rest room." I’m sure I’ll still be asking for the rest room while the rest of the country has now moved on to “powder room,” though in all honesty I find it hard to imagine men (Jeremy?) asking to use the “powder room.” It’s been suggested that “women’s room” replace “ladies’ room” but it doesn’t feel at all right to me. But then, neither does the “john” or the “little girls’room.”


Or, here’s a classic one: crippled → handicapped → disabled → differently-abled. And where are we now? Who knows!

Sometimes I think I am on safer ground if I stick with foreign euphemisms: derriere, for example, seems fairly safe for another decade or so. Though, did I miss the moment when it officially turned into the gluteus maximus? Sounds a bit supersized to me.

Incidentally, Polish vocabulary doesn not rely on double meaning as much as Englsih vocabulary does. The language is richer in that it simply has a greater number of words in common usage.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

One of the more unusual euphemisms I came across was for the old kicking of the bucket. It went something like this: "he's going to be cooking for the Kennedys." Morbid but accurate. Actually I remember another: living-challenged.

Anonymous said...

Vive le Che! is often misunderstood, it is associated with Cuban nationalism but casino players in the rural South often use that phrase when they ask for a 3rd card in blackjack.

Brian said...

I like the idea of JFW with a visiting law professor. Who better to post about bratwurst (laws are made the same way) and shades of meaning? One shade that I was reminded of recently: two neutral words for parents are "mother" and "father." Make them verbs and suddenly you've got "fathering a child" (a single act) compared to "mothering a child" (lifelong nurturing). Why???? I suppose here's where the sociologist comes back in.

Anonymous said...

The name Gertrude/Gurtrude, though old fashioned and seldom in use anymore, in Amish slang means "fart". Nina will want to be very, very careful if in any of her classes she has any women named Gertrude and any Amish students - Helpful in New Hampshire

Anonymous said...

Jestem nmiepelnolenia? ( I just now asked her in her native tongue if she owned any cats) Let's all make her welcome and learn some Polish phrases! - Helpful in New Hampshire

nina said...

Okay, that's an invitation for another post if I ever saw one. Thanks -- from a grateful immigrant.

Anonymous said...

Wesolych Swiat Bozego Naradzenia ! ( I just thanked her for being a teacher)

Anonymous said...

Jestem Gertrude co robimy!!! ( I'm Gertrude and I don't fart)

Anonymous said...

So long as you were on the subject of brats, how about this euphemism: vegetarian leather (for vinyl).