disameliorative effect of euphemisms

Gregory {Greg} Downing gd2 at NYU.EDU
Sat Mar 3 04:30:51 UTC 2001

At 11:50 AM 3/2/2001 -0500, Mark_Mandel at dragonsys.com wrote:
>>Gregory {Greg} Downing <gd2 at NYU.EDU> writes:
>>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.

>From my possibly parochial angle, this sub-discussion of how "pejorative" is
properly defined gets chalked up to the ubiquitous phenomenon of different
people employing the same word in two somewhat overlapping but non-identical
ways. In fact, it often seems to be the case that the same person employs
the same word in somewhat different ways, over time.

In any case, OED2's definition begins: "Tending to make worse;
depreciatory," which seems to specify a fairly broad semantic range,
including terms applied to any given thing that are more negative in force
than whatever neutral or positive terms are employed in reference to the
same thing. The status of Latin _peior_ as a comparative adjective may
affect the ideolect of some educated speakers, and (as OED notes) the usage
history of the word shows that it has often, but not exclusively, been used
more narrowly, i.e., in application to neutral or positive words to which
some depreciatory *morphology* has been added (e.g., poetaster). In M.M.'s
idiolect the proper use of the term is a function of whether or not it is
being employed to "equate... the thing referred to with something
undesireable, something worse than what it is," and he gives an etymological
justification ("Latin "peior" 'worse'"). He's absolutely entitled to his
definition, of course! Usage is usage!

I know from experience that language-minded people often argue at
considerable length over whether the ways in which they currently use a
given word are better than the ways in which others have used that word.
Only occasionally do I see anything definite and positive emerge from those
kinds of debates, which tend to take the form of two adamantly opposed camps
lobbing verbal and conceptual artillery across a no-man's-land. Sic transit
gloria praescriptivismi, or something like that! So perhaps the better part
of valo(u)r would be to let this shuttlecock fall, particularly in light of
the fact that no one has had anything to say about it onlist during the past
ten hours! Then again, once someone makes any definite statement on the
internet, the probability of its diametric counterstatement coming to the
fore tends to approach 1.0!

Best regards to all,

Greg Downing, at greg.downing at nyu.edu or gd2 at nyu.edu

More information about the Ads-l mailing list