I was assigned to committee number eight at 5:00 pm today, so I’m facing a bit of a challenge getting regular posts completed on time. I’ve also got the seven year program review, 4 classes and much more…
But, since I am working on a book on rhetoric, I can inflict some rough draft material on you until I either a) get more time or b) die.
When I was a kid, people bought used cars. These days, people buy fine pre-owned cars. There is no difference between the meaning of “used car” and “pre-owned car”—both refer to the same thing, namely a car someone else has owned and used. However, “used” sounds a bit nasty, perhaps suggesting that the car might be a bit sticky in places. In contrast, “pre-owned” sounds rather better. By substituting “pre-owned” for “used”, the car sounds somehow better, although it is the same car whether it is described as used or pre-owned.
If you need to make something that is negative sound positive without actually making it better, then a euphemism should be your tool of choice. A euphemism is a pleasant or at least inoffensive word or phrase that is substituted for a word or phrase that means the same thing but is unpleasant, offensive otherwise negative in terms of its connotation. To use an analogy, using a euphemism is like coating a bitter pill with sugar, making it easier to swallow.
The way to use a euphemism is to replace the key words or phrases that are negative in their connotation with those that are positive (or at least neutral). Naturally, it helps to know what the target audience regards as positive words, but generically positive words can do the trick quite well.
The defense against a euphemisms is to replace the positive term with a neutral term that has the same meaning. For example, if someone say “An American citizen was inadvertently neutralized during a drone strike”, the neutral presentation would be “An American citizen was killed during a drone strike.” While “killed” does have a negative connotation, it does describe the situation with more neutrality.
In some cases, euphemisms are used for commendable reasons, such as being polite in social situations or to avoid exposing children to “adult” concepts. For example, at a funeral it is considered polite to refer the dead person as “the departed” rather than “the corpse.”
Examples of Euphemisms
“Pre-owned” for “used.”
“Neutralization” for “killing.”
“Freedom fighter” for “terrrorist”
“Revenue enhancement” for “tax increase.”
“Down-sized” for “fired.”
“Between jobs” for “unemployed.”
“Passed” for “dead.”
“Office manager” for “secretary.”
“Custodian” for “janitor.”
“Detainee” for “prisoner.”
“Enhanced interrogation” for “torture.”
“Self-injurious behavior incidents” for “suicide attempts.”
“Democrat” for “Communist.”