disameliorative effect of euphemisms

Mark A. Mandel Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM
Fri Mar 2 16:50:06 UTC 2001

Gregory {Greg} Downing <gd2 at NYU.EDU> writes (I have added some spacing):

As listers may recall, the original post on this thread solicited "words
that are viewed as innocuous today (or at least not _that_ bad) but whose
origins are offensive in some way." Some subsequent posters found equal
interest in the opposite process, i.e., words that began as "innocuous" but
later became "offensive in some way." In the passage you quote I was taking
"pejorative" to mean a worse or more negative term for something in contrast
to a neutral or more positive term for the same thing. If you would like to
take the position that "pejorative" doesn't accurately describe the status
of "crapper" or "shittery" as against, for example, "commode" or "lavatory,"
you're entitled! That means you likewise view "shit" and "crap" as not
pejorative (i.e., as not commonly taken to be "offensive in some way"), in
contrast with "doodoo" or "defecation" or whatever. Usage is usage!

                                                                   Would it
have made more sense to you had I said "offensive" rather than "pejorative"?
(In making my word-choice I was trying to avoid the sometimes heavy
emotional freight often carried by "offensive"....)

Yes, it would have made more sense to me, and I would not have replied as I
did. Perhaps I should not have brought up the coinage "shittery", since it
involves fictional cultural assumptions. But I do not take "pejorative" to
mean generally "offensive in some way"; it is a technical term with a
specific meaning.

Referring to feces as "shit" or "crap" may be vulgar, but it does not lower
the attributed status of the referent in any way and therefore is not
pejorative. On the other hand, referring to someone's possessions or
writing as "shit" or "crap" --

     Get your shit out of my house today!
     I don't read his crap any more.

-- IS pejorative, because it equates the thing referred to with something
undesireable, something worse than what it is (Latin "peior" 'worse').

Maybe I am using the term more restrictively than most linguists. If so, I
hope others on ADS-L will tell me so, and tell me just what they usually
mean by it.

-- Mark A. Mandel

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