the new "euphemism"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Dec 22 05:28:28 UTC 2013

On Dec 21, 2013, at 10:49 PM, Joel S. Berson wrote:

> At 12/21/2013 09:07 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>> On Dec 21, 2013, at 7:21 PM, George Thompson wrote:
>> > From the NYTimes of a day or so ago, from an article on a exhibit of work
>> > by Jason Rhoades.
>> >
>> > "And each installation has something to say about the stereotypical,
>> > sex-obsessed, heterosexual American male; one piece is littered with
>> > printouts of Internet pornography, another covered with neon signs that
>> > list euphemisms or [sic] the vagina."
>> >
>> > In that the NYTimes -- pure in word, thought and deed, as always --
>> > couldn't bring itself to print any of these euphemisms, I surmise that they
>> > are really synonyms -- obscene synonyms, but still.
>> >
>> > I suppose that this is a sign that now "euphemism" is a synonym for
>> > "synonym".
>> > So what's a synonym for "euphemism", for the use of those of us who prefer
>> > to be understood as saying what we intended to be understood as saying?
>> >
>> > GAT
>> > in dismay.
>> >
>> > If this be prescriptivism, make the most of it.
>> Or a typo for "neon signs that list euphemisms for the vagina", not
>> "...or the vagina".
>> We'll have to go the gallery to know for sure.
> Isn't part of GAT's point that it is not "euphemisms for vagina" on
> the neon signs, but words for which (one might say) "vagina" is the
> euphemism?  (The other part being that "euphemism" is misused.)

I would maintain, though, that "euphemisms for the vagina" are not the same as "euphemisms for 'vagina'".  (By deleting the article, you're turning a reference to the body part into a reference to the word for it.)  The latter is, I agree, odd, although it might be argued that that's precisely the much-needed gap that 'va-jay-jay' fills.  But "euphemisms for *the* vagina", interpreted as 'euphemistic expressions to refer to (or avoid referring directly to) the vagina', is not (as) odd.  Modulo the fact that we're often not talking about the vagina here but rather euphemistic expressions for referring to the vulva.

> And that, to my mind at least, neatly ties this message chain to the
> one on "substitute for".
> Joel
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