Say What? 

Rosie Right

Rosie is always bemused by euphemisms which are easy to use and often save others' feelings, but they do, at times, seem pretty foolish. An example of this is the use now in ads for pre-owned cars. If you think about this term, you realize that we are talking about used cars. Used car was a good phrase at one time, but perhaps it fell into disrepute when you would hear people ask "Would you buy a used car from this man?" Senior citizen, also, seems to me a silly term. Why not just face the reality of being older?

Possibly the worst euphemism we see used over and over is the substitution of the word mistake for offenses that range from peccadilloes to heinous crimes. Often, the speaker does not even take ownership of the mistake, but puts the statement in the passive voice: "Mistakes were made."

Peter Loge, director of the Justice Project, speaking on Morning Edition on June 16, had another take on euphemisms. He claimed that as people disappear from public life they begin to be called by names that conceal their disrepute in previous times, and their actions are concealed by nicer terms. An example he gave came from the Washington Post, which referred to the late Syrian President Assad's authoritarian form of government as "tight public management."

The problem with euphemisms lies not in their attempt to be polite to others, but in the fuzzy thinking that can result when we use words once removed from our meaning.

Of course, this column is not at all original in complaining about euphemisms. One of Rosie's favorite writing textbooks, the 1977 Random House Handbook by Frederick Crews, as usual vividly puts the case against them. This was written, incidentally, long before political correctness became a term of opprobrium.

Under the Heading "Call Things by Their Names," Crews says:

"This work of prettification often has commercial or political motives behind it. ...Thus cemeteries become memory gardens; unemployment becomes human resources development; concentration camps are relocation centers

"The user of deliberate euphemism fears vividness above all. 'Continued driving with a failed bearing,' said a letter recalling certain defective cars, 'could result in a disengagement of the axle shaft and adversely affect vehicle control.' Just how inconvenienced a driver would be when his rear axle dropped onto the road the concocters of the letter preferred not to say."

It's Rosie's resolution to be especially on guard against euphemisms in this high political season.

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1118 W. Main St., Richmond, Va. 23220), fax (359-9089) or email rmail@richmond.infi.net

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