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The Linguistics of Euphemism:

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1 The Linguistics of Euphemism:
A Diachronic Study of Sexual Euphemism Formation in Literature For our Emma:  My dearest Emma, for dearest you will always be […] my dearest most beloved Emma… Jane Austen, Emma (1816:325)

2 “In the beginning was the word
“In the beginning was the word. There followed, at an undetermined but one assumes decent interval, private, harsh, and dirty words. Invention here being the mother of necessity, the need for euphemism arose. Nowhere could this need have been greater, or more evident, than in the realm of sex.” Epstein, J. (1985) “Sex and euphemism,” in Enright, D. J. (Ed.) Fair of Speech: the uses of euphemism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.85.

3 compounding derivation i) Word formation devices blends acronyms onomatopoeia back slang Formal innovation rhyming slang ii) Phonemic phonemic modification replacement abbreviation Euphemisms iii) Loan words particularisation implication (iv) Semantic innovation metaphor metonym reversal understatement overstatement Figure 1: Classification of the main devices for constructing euphemisms (Warren, 1992a:133)

4 Word Formation Devices
1) Compounding: ‘hand job’ [masturbation] 2) Derivation: ‘fellatio’ [oral sex] 3) Blends: Warren gives no examples of what she means by this term, or of how a blend is formed. 4) Acronyms: SNAFU [‘Situation Normal All Fucked Up’] 5) Onomatopoeia: ‘bonk’ [sexual intercourse]

5 Phonemic Modification
1) Back slang: ‘enob’ [bone/erect penis], Rawson (1981:88) and ‘epar’ [rape] (Warren, 1992:133). 2) Rhyming slang: ‘Bristols’ [breasts], a shortened, and further euphemised, version of ‘Bristol cities’ [titties] 3) Phonemic replacement: ‘shoot’ [shit] 4) Abbreviation: ‘eff’ (as in “eff off!”) [fuck (off)].

6 Loan Words 1) French: ‘mot’ [cunt]; ‘affair(e)’ [extramarital engagement]; ‘lingerie’ [underwear] 2) Latin: ‘faeces’ [excrement]; ‘anus’ [asshole]. 3) Other languages: Spanish: ‘cojones’ [testicles]; Yiddish ‘schmuck’ [penis] in Yiddish literally means ‘pendant’

7 Semantic Innovation 1) Particularisation: ‘satisfaction’ [orgasm]; ‘innocent’ [virginal] 2)  Implication: ‘loose’, which implies ‘unattached’, which leads to the interpretation [sexually easy/available] 3)  Metaphor: colourful metaphorical euphemisms surround menstruation: ‘the cavalry has come’- a reference to the red coats of the British cavalry; ‘red letter day’ and ‘flying the red flag’ 4) Metonym: maximally general ‘it’ [sex]; contextually dependent ‘thing’ [male/female sexual organs, etc.]

8 Semantic Innovation, continued…
5) Reversal: or ‘irony’: ‘blessed’ [damned]; ‘enviable disease’ [syphilis] 6) Understatement: or ‘litotes’: ‘sleep’ [die]; ‘deed’ [act of murder/rape]; ‘not very bright’ [thick/stupid] 7) Overstatement: or ‘hyperbole’: ‘fight to glory’ [death], and those falling under Rawson’s (1981:11) “basic rule of bureaucracies: the longer the title, the lower the rank”, e.g., ‘visual engineer’ [window cleaner] and ‘Personal Assistant to the Secretary (Special Activities)’ [cook] (Rawson, ibid.).

9 The Novels Austen, J. (1816) Emma. London: Penguin Group.
Lawrence, D. H. (1928) Lady Chatterly's Lover. London: Penguin Group. Walker, F. (1996) Well Groomed. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

10 “It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen’s novels are about courtship and marriage. But it is a truth almost as universally ignored that they are also very much about sex.” Chandler, A. (1975) “A pair of fine eyes: Jane Austen’s treatment of sex”. Studies in the novel, vol. 7/1, p

11 Table 1: The euphemisms of Emma
“What did she say? - Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.”  Austen (1816:326) i) Word formation devices Compounding 8 iii) Loan words French 2 Derivation 3 Latin Blends Other (Italian) 1 Acronyms iv) Semantic innovation Particularisation 19 Onomatopoeia Implication 20 ii) Phonemic modification Back slang Metaphor 9 Rhyming slang Metonym Phonemic replacement Reversal Abbreviation Understatement 7 Overstatement Euphemisms not covered by Warren’s model Table 1: The euphemisms of Emma

12 “I want men and women to be able to think sex, fully, completely, honestly and cleanly […] if I use the taboo words, there is a reason. We shall never free the phallic reality from the “uplift” taint until we give it its own phallic language, and use the obscene words.” D. H. Lawrence, quoted in McMaster, J. (1987) “Love: surface and subsurface,” in Bloom, H. (Ed.) (1987) Modern Critical Interpretations: Emma. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, p. 52.

13 Table 2: The euphemisms of Lady Chatterly's Lover
“[Lawrence] sets on a pedestal promiscuous intercourse, commends sensuality almost as a virtue, and encourages and even advocates coarseness and vulgarity of thought and language.” Lloyd Jones, L. and Aynsley, J. (1985) Fifty Penguin Years. Harmondsworth: Penguin, p. 65. i) Word formation devices Compounding 3 iii) Loan words French 4 Derivation 11 Latin Blends Other (Italian) Acronyms iv) Semantic innovation Particularisation 13 Onomatopoeia 2 Implication 20 ii) Phonemic modification Back slang Metaphor 31 Rhyming slang Metonym 22 Phonemic replacement Reversal Abbreviation Understatement Overstatement Euphemisms not covered by Warren’s model Table 2: The euphemisms of Lady Chatterly's Lover

14 “In the second half of the present century [the twentieth] attitudes towards sexual behaviour have changed considerably. The generative organs and their conjunctions have been stripped of immodesty.” Burchfield, R. (1985) “An outline history of euphemisms in English,” in Enright, D. J. (Ed.) Fair of Speech: the uses of euphemism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 14.

15 Table 3: The euphemisms of Well Groomed
“Sexual matters are less hedged about with ‘fair-spoken’ words than they once were.” Burchfield, R. (1985) “An outline history of euphemisms in English,” in Enright, D. J. (Ed.) Fair of Speech: the uses of euphemism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 29. i) Word formation devices Compounding 2 iii) Loan words French 1 Derivation 3 Latin Blends Other (Italian) Acronyms iv) Semantic innovation Particularisation 6 Onomatopoeia Implication 15 ii) Phonemic modification Back slang Metaphor 22 Rhyming slang Metonym 11 Phonemic replacement Reversal Abbreviation Understatement Overstatement Euphemisms not covered by Warren’s model Table 3: The euphemisms of Well Groomed

16 …euphemisms are society’s basic lingua non franca […] By tracing them, it is possible to see what has been (and is) going on in our language, our minds, and our culture. Rawson, H. (1981) A Dictionary of Euphemisms & Other Doubletalk. New York: Crown Publishers, p. 1. i) Word formation devices Compounding 13 iii) Loan words French 7 Derivation 17 Latin 3 Blends Other (Italian) 1 Acronyms iv) Semantic innovation Particularisation 38 Onomatopoeia 5 Implication 55 ii) Phonemic modification Back slang Metaphor 62 Rhyming slang Metonym 35 Phonemic replacement 2 Reversal Abbreviation Understatement Overstatement Euphemisms not covered by Warren’s model Table 4: The total number of different euphemisms from the three novels

17 compounding derivation i) Word formation devices blends acronyms onomatopoeia back slang Formal innovation rhyming slang ii) Phonemic phonemic modification replacement abbreviation deletion Euphemisms iii) Loan words particularisation implication (iv) Semantic innovation metaphor metonym reversal understatement overstatement proper nouns Naming geographic adjectives Figure 2: Preliminary modified version of Warren’s original model (1992a:133)

18 compounding derivation i) Word formation devices acronyms onomatopoeia back slang Formal innovation rhyming slang ii) Phonemic phonemic modification replacement abbreviation deletion Euphemisms iii) Loan words particularisation implication (iv) Semantic innovation metaphor metonym reversal understatement overstatement proper nouns Naming geographic adjectives Figure 3: Final modified version of Warren’s (1992a:133) classification model

19 If Bob Haldeman or John Ehrlichman or even Richard Nixon had said to me, “John, I want you to do a little crime for me. I want you to obstruct justice,” I would have told him he was crazy and disappeared from sight. No one thought about the Watergate cover-up in those terms - at first, anyway. Rather it was “containing” Watergate or keeping the defendants “on the reservation” or coming up with the right public relations “scenario” and the like. John W. Dean III, a participant in the Watergate affair, New York Times (April 6th, 1975).


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