Saturday, August 20, 2016

If It Quacks Like a Euphemism, It Probably Is One

Language is fraught with the possibilities for expression, rich with simile, metaphor, rhetorical questions, exaggeration, burlesque, and irony. Any and all of these expressions are tools, shaping and facilitating the progression of narrative.

Sometimes, when the occasion sends a writer to the toolkit for the right implement, the writer will come forth with a trope that by its exact nature, seeks to find a middle ground which, the more you think about it, computes to near equivalence to the protective buffer zone or that often referenced terrain in novels and accounts of war, "no man's land."  

Such tropes are known as euphemisms, or more polite, gentle, and perhaps otherwise more palatable ways of saying things related to human and animal behavior for which there are often more graphic, direct descriptions. 

When one substitutes the phrase "passing on" or "walking the rainbow bridge" for death, as in "John passed on" or "Mary walked the rainbow bridge" for "John died," or "Mary died," you are using a euphemism, a language filter meant to take the edge off of a stark, perhaps even ugly concept, in order to replace it with something more palatable. 

Another euphemism for death, which in your opinion has an even more harsh sound and meaning is "croaked," as in "Old Fred, he croaked." This use also suggests to you a certain social, geographical, and gender strata. 

You'd be surprised to hear a woman from, say, Massachusetts or Rhode Island use the trope under any circumstances and while you might yourself use it as dialogue from a women in Texas or thereabouts, you'd have to strain to see yourself writing of such a character in the near future.

Depending on where and how we live, there are less direct and, thus, more protective ways for expressing not only the human and animal condition but as well the human and animal fate. A popular euphemism you encountered early in your pursuit of the literary life was the euphemistic approach to the class system in England, whereby two Englishmen meeting in a foreign local would through a modern euphemism known as Q and A, attempt each to find the home turf and social caste of the other, as if the way they spoke wasn't sufficient evidence at the outset.

Already lurking in the back of your mind was the awareness of the caste system in India, beginning with the Brahmin at the top of the pyramid and at its lowest echelon the Untouchable, The ranking was so severe that the mere shadow of an Untouchable on a Brahmin was cause for uproar and ritual cleansing. 

As the English and Indian caste systems expanded in your awareness, and with your own personal experiences with aspects within what you'd been educated to believe was the casteless American system, you were an eager recipient for some of the distinctions of working classes you found in the writings of Karl Marx.

Within the culture to which you were born, there are equivalents of caste and since, in a major way, your adopted culture puts you in direct and indirect contact with East Indians, more often than not of the Hindu culture, you are not only back with a social caste system but as well a regional and language-based one. 

Not only are you confronted with the awareness of various languages spoken in India, you are aware of an entire language--Sanskrit--as a euphemism; its speakers are educated and focused in their purpose.

As a devoted student of the language of drama, you've attempted to teach yourself to use language to convey story in much the same way some of the religious sects have used Sanskrit to convey the occult and direct meanings of the ineffable nature of the Hindu belief system.

At this moment, much as you appreciate simile and metaphor in language as tools to clarify and enhance meaning, you can't help noticing how euphemism is employed to cover the culturally unthinkable by making the unthinkable appear if not polite at least nicer than it seems.

Reality is by no means nicer than it seems, no matter what euphemisms are evoked to make it seem so.

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