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.