Thursday, November 10, 2011

George Carlin on euphemisms (3)

The late comic George Carlin (pictured), a keen observer of language, had a lot to say about euphemisms. For example, here’s a transcript of a portion of one of his routines from the late 1980s. (Warning: profanity.)

And some of this stuff is just silly; we all know that; like on the airlines, they say they want to pre-board. Well, what the hell is pre-board? What does that mean? To get on before you get on? They say they’re going to pre-board those passengers in need of special assistance.

Cripples! Simple, honest, direct language!

There’s no shame attached to the word “cripple” that I can find in any dictionary. No shame attached to it. In fact, it’s a word used in Bible translations: Jesus healed the cripples. Doesn’t take seven words to describe that condition.

But we don’t have any cripples in this country any more; we have the physically challenged. Is that a grotesque enough evasion for you? How about differently abled? I’ve heard them called that: differently abled. You can’t even call these people handicapped any more. They’ll say, “Were not handicapped; we’re handi-capable.” These poor people have been bullshitted by the system into believing that if you change the name of the condition, somehow you’ll change the condition. Well, hey, cousin (raspberry sound), doesn’t happen. Doesn’t happen. (Ovation)

We have no more deaf people in this country; hearing-impaired. No one’s blind any more; partially sighted or visually impaired. We have no more stupid people; everybody has a learning disorder. Or he’s minimally exceptional. How would you like to be told that about your child? “He’s minimally exceptional.” “Oh, thank God for that.”

Psychologists actually have started calling ugly people those with severe appearance deficits. It’s getting so bad that any day now I expect to hear a rape victim referred to as an unwilling sperm recipient. (Ovation)

The Takeaway: Every euphemism falls somewhere in the spectrum between polite forbearance and malicious deceit. As a writer, you need to know, at all times, where you are in that spectrum. I won’t presume to tell you never to deceive, but as a writing coach I have a duty to tell you not to deceive unintentionally. As Oscar Wilde quipped in an analogous context, “A true gentleman is one who is never unintentionally rude.”

See disclaimer.

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