Bill Murchison

Over on our side of the pond, writers nowadays use blunt, succinct language in speaking of the human rear. OK, the words they use are in the dictionary, but so is the "F" word, which still for most purposes of human discourse remains sheathed. There seems to me no reason for the writer not to get playful when faced with the necessity (when it is a necessity) of dealing with the topic. I myself suggested once that a particular congressman's constituents might want to kick him in the place generally reserved for sitting down. Takes longer to say it that way? So what? It's better writing.

Euphemism invites playfulness because the euphemist is dancing. He wants to say what he wants to say, only without blunt instruments. So he dances around "hell," which becomes "the place of eternal torment" or just "the hot place." The phrase stands out instead of fading into the rhetorical woodwork.

So with "damned," for which you can substitute "darned," "blasted," "dadburned," and the like: about which there's the faint odor of preciousness, so regularly in modern society do people say "damn." The main thing is the purposeful distancing of one's self from the Bad Word.

It's what, unfortunately, we don't like any more -- distance, space -- in writing or in living. We like to go up to Reality (or what we imagine as such) and hug it. Well, fine, if that's what 100 percent of readers want. But I don't think it is. We could use a little more distance and dignity both in the way we present thoughts and ideas for inspection.

You can think of euphemism as a veil, concealing, slightly, what lies behind it, the way pre-"R"-rated movies, before bombs and bedroom scenes, suggested there was more to be known and seen than what was actually shown, and wouldn't you like to know about it?

What the writer gets, by withholding through euphemism, by drawing back by a few millimeters, is just a teeny bit better engagement with the reader, a little bit better chance of towing him along a few more pages.


Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
 
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