来源:岁月联盟 作者:谢朝华 时间:2010-10-06

[Abstract] Euphemism is derived from taboo, which is used to describe something inappropriate to talk about directly in communication. It is a cultural phenomenon as well as a rhetorical device. It is also a proper language pattern people created in social communication in order to make the communication effective. It plays an important role in our daily life. The most important social functions of euphemism are evasive function, polite function and cosmetic function. Political euphemism is a type of euphemism, so it has the feature of euphemism. Political euphemism is used widely by politicians, through which they can deliver their real information in a mild way without any harshness. This article will make an introduction of the origin, social functions and the application of euphemisms, and then discuss respectively the political euphemisms used in internal and international aspect and the rhetorical application of political euphemisms.
[Key Words] social function; political euphemism; rhetorical application

【摘 要】  委婉语起源于民俗禁忌,人们在交际中用来描述不宜直言的人或事物,既是一种修辞手法,又是一种文化现象。委婉语又是人们在社会交际中为谋求理想的交际效果而创造的一种适当的语言形式。它在生活中发挥着十分重要的交际功能。最主要的有避讳功能,礼貌功能,掩饰、美化功能。委婉语是委婉语的一个范畴,沿袭了普通委婉语的特征,广为政治家们所用。它使政治家们得以一种温和、不带任何刺激性的表达方式传递其真正的信息。本文将从委婉语的起源、社会功能、修辞入手,分别阐述政治委婉语的国际国内使用情况和政治委婉语修辞应用。
【关键词】  社会功能; 政治委婉语; 修辞应用

1. Introduction
1.1 The definition of euphemism
The English word “euphemism” derived from the Greek word “euphemismos”,which means “fair speech”. The prefix “eu-” means “good,sounding well”,and  “pheme” means “saying” or “speech”. So the literal meaning of “euphemism” is “to speak with good words or in a pleasant manner.” In the book of Modern Linguistics, it is defined as “a mild, indirect or less offensive word or expression substituted when the speaker or writer fears more direct wording might be harsh, unpleasantly direct or offensive.”[1]
1.2 The origin of euphemism
To trace the beginning of euphemisms, we can’t neglect “taboo”. In primitive society, people couldn’t explain such things as death, ailments and some supernatural phenomena. They also had confusion between the names of things and the things themselves: The name is viewed as an extension of the things. Just as the idiom says “Speak of the devil and he appears.” Naturally the words or the phrases related to these unexplainable things became taboos.
     For ordinary people, the safest way to avoid mentioning these things that they have to mention in many circumstances is to use another name---euphemisms to replace the true name of such a thing. In many cultures,the names of gods and devils are taboos .In order to avoid mentioning them directly, people use “gosh or golly” instead of God and “dicken or old Nick” instead of the devil. Therefore,we can safely state that “the existence of taboo words or taboo ideas stimulates the creation of euphemisms”.
In our modern society, however, the religious and superstitious relics still exist. But to a larger extent,euphemism is mostly motivated by people’s fear of death. Thus it is no wonder that such a large number of euphemisms about “death” exist: depart, decease,pass away,etc.
In short,euphemism originates from taboo. Because of the psychology of fear, people dare not or would rather not call something by name directly. If such unpleasant things have to be mentioned,people work out indirect terms to replace them. Thus euphemisms come into being. Using euphemisms gives people a feeling that they are somewhat distant from what they fear,and resorting to euphemisms seems to be a guarantee of their safety,happiness,health and good luck.
1.3 The social functions of euphemism
   From the origin of euphemism, we can see that the original function of euphemism is to be used in talking about taboos. In our daily life, there are some tabooed things that are believed to be dangerous to certain individuals, or to the society as a whole, or to be disgusting and unpleasant and cause fear. Such taboo things include disease, disabilities, death, sex, body excretion and body elimination process, etc. People can use euphemisms to talk about what cannot be talked about.
    With the development of our society, some new functions came into being during the communication in the civilized society. In our daily communication, besides, taboo topics, there are other sensitive and unpleasant topics which we do not feel like talking about directly, such as occupation, appearance, form of address, social status, poverty, murder, and so on. If we talk about such things directly, we may feel or make others feel embarrassed or unhappy. Such psychology in communication results in another function of euphemism, that is to show politeness and conceal feelings. For instance, unemployment and poverty are very dreadful things nowadays. In the modern way of thinking, to mention somebody’s unemployment and poverty is to speak pejoratively of his condition. So the replacements for them keep appearing. The miserable fact of unemployment is said to be “involuntarily leisured”, “between jobs”, etc. The poor becomes “the underprivileged”, and “the disadvantaged”. In Chinese, we refer to 失业 as 下岗,炒鱿鱼;被裁掉 as 给优化掉,etc. And the poor are descried as 拮据,手头紧,手头不便,囊中羞涩,etc.
From the above examples we can see that euphemisms can help to keep us more distant from the unpleasant reality, or in other words, the harsh truth has been concealed to a certain extent, that is to say, in reality,euphemisms are also often used to cover the truth. The euphemisms related to politics given excellent explanation for this. For example, the Watergate Scandal made people more sensitive to political language. It became necessary to use euphemisms to make the sensitive political concepts softened and vague. Hence,the “Caper incident” substituted “phones taps”, “go the hangout road” for “tell the truth”,and “stone wall” for “flatly refuse to cooperate”.[2] George Orwell once illustrated the bitter irony of such linguistic phenomenon,“political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable,and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Based on the above descriptions about the social functions of euphemisms,we can make the generalizations as follows:
(1) Euphemisms not only help the speaker avoid talking about the dreadful or embarrassed things directly, but also help the speaker or the er feel relaxed talking about the things that might probably make him/her appear disgraced or embarrassed if spoken directly.
(2) Euphemisms are used to cover up the true nature of events, deceiving the public with nice-sounding and pseudo-technical work, and in the meanwhile it also can help some people avoid talking about sensitive things directly so that they can escape their due responsibility, even punishment.
1.4. Rhetorical application of euphemism
1.4.1. The definition of rhetoric
Before we study the rhetorical application of euphemism,it is necessary to make clear what is rhetoric. Rhetoric is “the art of using language impressively and persuasively, esp. in public speaking.”(Oxford Advanced Learner’s English-Chinese Dictionary, 4th edition.) Whether Speaking or writing,one has to get oneself across effectively, i.e.,to be eloquent,accurate,impressive,persuasive and expressive. The study of how to express oneself effectively,generally speaking,is the main concern of rhetoric.
1.4.2. Rhetorical application of euphemism
    When we use euphemisms, we also have to think about how to express our ideas effectively. So we should make use of the rhetorical device. [3] The rhetorical devices frequently used are as following:
(i) Metaphor
With this figure of speech,the euphemism always seems to be romantic so that the style of the language may change a lot. There are numerous euphemistic words for “die” in English. Actually some of them are vivid and informal metaphor. For instance,“go to his long home”, “go to sleep forever” and “cease to think”,etc.
(ii) Metonymy
Metonymy is a figure of speech in which the name of one thing is used to stand for another thing. The two things involved in a metonymy are not of the same kind but are closely related. Euphemism makes a good use of it. For instance, some part of human body are often euphemized with a whole part for a very special one, which is not suitable to mention directly, such as “lower parts”, or “part below” for “secret parts”, “upper parts” for “breasts”, etc.
(iii) Synecdoche
Some euphemisms are invented by synecdoche, a trope which is “a figure by which a more comprehensive term is used for less comprehensive or vice versa; as whole for part or part for whole, a genus for species or species for genus, etc.”(Oxford Dictionary) For instance, “He has a smooth tongue,” in fact, means, “He is talkative.”
(iv) Personification
  Some unpleasant things are given human characteristics or human names to achieve a vivid effect. Examples:
(1)Personified euphemisms for drugs:
       Big Harry for heroin,Miss Emma for morphine,
       Mary Jane for marijuana,etc.
(2)Personified euphemisms for bathroom:
       John (Am.E.) ,jakes,Sir John;
Mrs. Tones,Aunt (e.g. to go to one’s Aunt) (used by female only) ,etc
(v) Periphrasis
Periphrasis, as circumlocution, refers to a thing named in a roundabout way. Rawson suggests “the longer the euphemisms, the better.” They have more syllables, and frequently, two or more words will be deployed in place of a single one. For instance, “trousers” does not sound well,so “nether garments” replaces it. “Fart” is too unpleasant to the ear,so people say it as “wind from behind”.
(vi) Understatement
Understatement is a figure of speech in which an idea is deliberately expressed too weakly. It is used to play down or to minimize the importance of something. It is usually employed in three ways: litotes, meiosis and overtones. Litotes is understatement by denying the contrary of the thing being affirmed. It is the use of negative form for positive ideas when the speaker wishes to weaken his tone of comment on something. For example, we often use “unwise” instead of “stupid”; “impolite” instead of “rude”.
(vii) Irony
    Irony is a figure of speech in which the intended meaning of the words used is the direct opposite of their usual sense. For example, when someone hates the weather, which spoils his trip and says, “What a fine day!” he is ironical.
Some intimate feelings or bad things are expressed resorting to irony, a figure of speech in which the meaning literally expressed is the opposite of the meaning indicated and aims at humor or sarcasm and avoid hurting others by direct expressions. In certain context,it can hold the reader’s attention and deepen its impression,therefore,a Pleasant effect could be achieved. Examples: Ministry of Defense is in fact referred to “Ministry of War”, the real meaning of “life insurance” is “insurance when you are dead”, and “freedom fighter” is substituted for “terrorists”.

2. Political euphemism
2.1. Introduction
Politics is a fertile area for the growth of euphemisms,which are cosmetic in expression but deceptive in nature. Euphemisms of this kind are always used consciously and deliberately. Euphemisms used in political issues are mainly seen in the internal and international aspects.
2.1.1 Internal aspect
In internal aspect, political euphemisms are used for some social problems such as poverty,unemployment, crime and racism, and the activities of the political organization and so on, which are cosmetic.
In order to cover the problems of poverty and unemployment, etc, the government continuously created euphemisms serving for his political purpose. For example, in America, “the poor” is called as “the deprived, man of modest means, the less well off”, and the poor area as “the inner city”, etc. And “lose jobs” become “between jobs”, “fire employees” become “downsizing” or “RIF (reduction in force),”lack of job security” is referred to as “job flexibility”. In Britain, the unemployed can enjoy the half-price film ticket or theatre ticket, only because they are “the less fortunate”.
When the western countries were in the beginning of 20th century, the relation between the laborers and the capitalist was very tense, and strike become a serious social problem. In order to cover the contradiction, “strike” was referred to as “industrial dispute”, “boycott classes” as “student unrest”, “and drop” as “adjustment downward”.[4]America is a country pound of its perfect law system, however, it is also a country filled with all kinds of social crime. In order to avoid those disgraced sayings, euphemisms are frequently used. For instance, “steal” is called as “to hook, to palm, to work the hole, to walk away with”; “to robbery” is referred to as “to clip, to put the arm on, to break a jug”; “to murder” is referred to as “to cross out, to disappear, to die in a necktie, to go cool”; “punishment ”becomes “to drop into the bucket, do time, to walk the last mile”. [5] P47 The word “nigger” which is full of racial discrimination and has a bad connotation is replaced by “Negro” and then “colored”, “black” and now “Afro-American”.

Some political organizations also prefer to use euphemisms. In America, the activity of the FBI organization often be criticized and satirized. People especially disagreed with their searching activities, which invade human rights. In order to cover their illegal activity, the investigators of the organizer created and changed the speech they used, using a series of euphemisms, such as “technical trespasses, surreptitious, uncontested physical searches, and warrantless investigations”, etc, all of which, in fact, are the euphemism of “break in”. After the American president Reagan win the election, he set about to deal with the country’s financial problem. He appealed “revenue enhancements”. In fact, it is “tax increase”, which run counter to “cut taxes” he promised during the election. The euphemism used here vague his true intention abstractly and fuzzily. [6]
There are also some other political euphemisms used to cover the political scandals. For example, “lie” is referred to as “less than truthful, prevaricate, inoperative”; “illegal” is referred to as “inappropriate” There are a lot of euphemisms produced during the “Watergate scandal” about president Nixon in America of 20th century 1970s.For instance, “plumber” is referred to as “intelligence-stealer”, “eavesdrop” as “intelligence-gathering”,  “the scheme of eavesdrop” as “scenario”, and even “the scandal” became “event”.
In modern society, social problems are numerous,so it is with China. To reassure and pacify the public,the government just makes such remarks as “我们绝大多数党员干部是廉洁自律的,这样的人在我们的干部队伍中只是极少数,问题是有的,但成绩是主要的,主流是好的” etc. For diplomatic talks,we have such remarks as “双方进行了建设性的会谈,双方就共同关心的问题坦率地交换了意见,总之,双方的会谈是有益的和富有建设性的”etc. All these indicate that both sides are quite far from reaching agreement concerning certain issues. These vague remarks just conceal the fact of truth and serve certain political purpose.
Political euphemism also has positive function. In internal aspect, the use of political euphemism is embodied in the talk between different parties. The proper political euphemisms can enhance the friendly relationship and keep a friendly atmosphere. Taiwan problem is a typical example of this kind. In October,1995,when chairman Jiang Zemin was interviewed by the American journalists, he said that, “我们一贯主张和平统一, ‘一国两制’,但是如果岛内分裂主义势力搞 ‘台湾独立’我们不排除采取非和平手段的可能性.”The “Anti-secession Law” passed in 2005,also emphasizes that “必要时将通过’非和平手段’来确保国家的领土完整.” Here, “非和平手段”(non-peaceful means) in fact is referred to “war”. The use of these two political euphemisms of “不排除采取非和平手段的可能性” and “必要时将通过’非和平手段’” reflect that the government of China tried their best to consolidate the whole country through peaceful way.
2.1.2 International aspect
In the case of international aspect, the cosmetic euphemisms also can be easily found in political and military activities. For instance, “lie” is referred to as “terminological inexactitude”; “aggression” as “pre-emptive action” or “police action”; “retreat and tout” as “phased withdrawal”; “admit defeat” as “concede the victory to”; “concentration camps” as “strategic villages” or “hamlets”; “bombing and blasting of whole villages” as “pacification of the enemy infrastructure” or “softening up of enemy resistance” or “give massive air support”. The euphemisms here are in the true sense of the word “false.” They are used to cover up the true nature of events, deceiving the public with nice-sounding and pseudo-technical words.
Political euphemisms used in military activity come into being with the war. Politicians in the western countries call the invasive war used to transfer the internal contradiction as “preventive war” or “international armed conflict”; “defeat” as “strategic withdrawal”; “the refugee tide ”during the war as “transfer of population”.
The military activity of the allied forces of the USA and Britain in Iraq also produced many political euphemisms. The moment of starting the war was called as “moment of truth”; the slogan of this action was “Iraqi Freedom”; the illegal and inhuman aggression become “liberation”; “bombing” was called as “ a target of opportunity,” that is, a target of the Iraqi leadership, which really means “random bombing”.
Government discussion of the Vietnam War was saturated with euphemisms. Villagers were burned and the inhabitants imprisoned-that were ‘pacifications’; saturation bombing with B-525 was ‘ordnance delivery’,destroying crops was ‘defoliation’; the war itself was not a war but a ‘conflict’. These euphemisms form a framework to deceive,to hide the dirty business of war. And examples are everywhere: in 1983,after the U.S. sent its armed forces into Grenada,Reagan showed his irritation with reporters at their ‘frequent use of the word invasion. ‘This’, he said,‘was a rescue mission.’ Actually, it was Reagan himself who had first called it an invasion. In 1999,the U.S. government bombed Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia on purpose,but to conceal their guilt,they called the bombing ‘friendly fires’ and so on.
Sometimes, the invader even uses the cosmetic function of euphemisms to shirk one’s responsibility and keep themselves from being censured by the international public opinion. For example, the Japanese government was unwilling to admit its heinous crime in front of its civilians after its surrender in the World War Two. It even distorts the history. In its history textbooks, “invade China” is misrepresented as “enter the mainland”, “massive killing in Nanjing city” which shocked the whole world was called as “occupy Nanjing city”. In the end of 20th century, NATO, in order to speed up the process of “the plan of eastward”, taking the Kosovo Crisis as an excuse, bombed Yugoslavia heavily, which last over two months. The unscrupulous bombing brought the Yugoslavians the material and mental loss. When countries all over the world blamed the NATO’s “robbery action”, in order to escape from it, NATO called the war as “humanitarian intervention”. The American Defense Minister WillianCohen denied the war against Yugoslavia on the News Release Meeting, and said euphemistically that, “We are certainly engaged in ‘hostilities’; we are engaged in ‘combat’. “American Secretary of state Madeleine Albright even called the “continuous bombing” of NATO against Yugoslavia as “NATO’s operation”, so that they could take the easier way to talk about the situation of Yugoslavia concerned by people all over the world.[7]
In international aspect, there are also some examples, which reflect the positive function of the political euphemisms. For instance, “the developing country” is referred to “the poor country” to avoid the problem of un-development and show the politeness, which is good for the cooperation between the countries all over the world. Another example, when different political systems are referred, people often use “the eastern countries “to refer to the socialist countries, such as China, and “the western countries” to the capitalist countries, such as America, so as to soften and avoid the conflict, and keep a harmonious atmosphere between the countries.
We can also see the use of political euphemisms used for politeness from the reports about “Nuclear Weapon Problem in Korean Peninsula”. The speaker of American White House Steve McClaren once emphasized on a News Release Meeting that, “the America’s attitude would never be changed, that is, we will continue to look for diplomatic resolution cooperating with the neighbor countries of Korean, but at the same time, we still keep all the other optional plans.” Richard Perle, the high-grade consultant of American Defense Department, who was visiting Moscow at that time, when he was interviewed by the local TV program about Nuclear Weapon Problem in Korean Peninsula, he said, “I don’t think (America) would solve the problem through use of force, but no one can ensure that it is impossible to use force. We are making our endeavor to solve the problem, and are trying to make Korean stop its nuclear plan without considering using force.” In face of America’s beating around the bush, Korean relied that, “If America attack Korean, Korean people army certainly will give the American army ‘the ruthless punishment’.” In the diplomatic speech, although the two side opposed each other with equal harshness, expressed each other’s firm attitude, they still tried to avoid talking about “war” directly, so that they can remain the room for peace solution through political and diplomatic devices, so as not to be fallen into the passive situation.[8]
From all the examples above, we can conclude that there are two main features of the communication of political euphemisms.
(1) To disguise: The use of such political euphemisms helps government beautify the fact,and prevents people from taking any anti-government action. These euphemisms form a framework to deceive,to hide the dirty business of war.
(2) To be polite: It was used to maintain the friendly relations, which are required for smooth and effective communication. The purpose of social interaction is to promote the friendship between the speakers and therefore,every time when one speaks,he has to consider whether what he says is likely to maintain,improve,or damage the friendship.

3. Rhetorical application of political euphemism
    Political euphemism, as an important type of euphemism, also uses the rhetorical devices to make the communication effectively. [9]  People often use the following rhetorical devices:
3.1 The use of understatement
The feature of understatement is that the speech of it touches the essence of the matter in a very little degree, so that people who don’t know the truth or the implication can’t feel the seriousness of the matter. Political euphemisms often use the rhetoric device of understatement. There are many examples of this kind. For example, “poor” is a dreadful word both in English and Chinese, it means the life is in a difficult position, and indicates the low social position. It also indicates the governmental inability to solve social and economic problems. In order to cover up it and make the poverty problem seem to be not so serious, government call “poor” as “needy or disadvantaged”, call the “slum” as “substandard housing”, “slum children” as “the culturally different children”, and “ghetto” is referred to as “inner city”. In English, there are not poor nations or poor countries, but only backward nations, underdeveloped nations, developing nations and emerging nations. The UN calls those poor countries as “less-developed nations or countries.”
In the international political affairs, especially in the military field, there are more examples of this kind, which are used to cover the essence of some dirty matters. For example, Ministry of Defense, in fact, is Ministry of War. American government once uses “Operation Sunshine” to cover its heinous crime that they took the experiment of hydrogen bullet in the Pacific Ocean. During the war of Gulf war, American use “air operation” and “ground operation” instead of “air strike” and “ground war”, as a result, people couldn’t feel about the terribleness and cruelness of the war from the words directly.
3.2. The use of periphrasis
     Periphrasis usually uses long phrases or sentences to make the er’s attention far from the topic. Politicians often use some longer words to express their ideas. Because when people want to disguise some facts, they often take a roundabout way of talk. Then they must use more words. Expressions in political issues are usually made by longer and more words or phrases. The typical example of this kind is the different expressions of the “War Syndrome” in three different periods. In World War One, it was “shell shock”; in World War Two, it became “combat fatigue”; while in 20th century 1960s the phrase became Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, used to describe the panic of the order soldiers of Vietnam War. We can’t see anything related to war at all from the phrases. There are some other examples: in official English, government use “in the early state of finalization” instead of “not yet finished”; “be economical with truth” instead of “withhold the truth”; “Higher Education Contribution Scheme” instead of “Educational Levy”. And “fire” is said as “give the sack”, “imprisonment” can be called as “live at the government’s expense”, “poor” is “economically disadvantaged individuals”, “weapon equipment development” is called as “reconnaissance forces sweeping”, “drop” as “adjustment downward”.
3.3. The use of irony
     Irony is a figure of speech in which the meaning literally expressed is the opposite of the meaning indicated and aims at humor or sarcasm and avoids hurting others by direct expressions. That is to say irony is what we said is the opposite of what we meant. Through irony, letting the listener guess and gradually understand what the speaker really intend to do, we can avoid to make the listener embarrassed. Through it, we cannot only cover what is not convenient to say directly, but also increases the humor. For example:
     Nixon’s proposals have been hailed as wound if not original. But this appraisal of his own stewardship sometimes seems more generous than candid.
     The word “generous” is originally used as a commendatory word to praise somebody. Its using here has the effect of irony, which intends to criticize that the president exaggerated something and was not modest. [10]

4. Conclusion
    The present paper has focused on the political euphemism used in internal and international aspects and its rhetorical application. It would be a beneficial guide for the language learners to understand the culture and the psychologies. In addition,only when learning what topics or subjects are required to be euphemistically described,can we avoid being misunderstood in dealing with diplomatic affairs. Nowadays, more and more people pay attention to the research on political euphemism. By studying political euphemism, we can not only enlarge our knowledge, but also grasp the social psychology of the user using political euphemisms, and then understand and use it properly.

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