the new "euphemism"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sun Dec 22 23:26:52 UTC 2013

I see that -- as usual -- when I comment on an aspect of contemporary
speech, I find that I am 15 years behind times.  Since more often than
not,I am80 years behind, I will claim this as progress.  Still, I see
"euphemism" as a euphemism for "synonym" has come up for discussion here in
the early 2000s, and no doubt before that.

LH's point that "euphemisms for the vagina" are not the same as "euphemisms
for 'vagina'" shows a subtlety of thought that goes beyond where the writer
in the Times I quoted can follow.

ADSGarson sent me this:
The following link goes to webpage with an image of an artwork by
Jason Rhoades. Click on the image to expand it. Orchid, Boat, Cuzzy,
Sandwich, and Nooky are some of the words in neon,

[GAT resumes]
Of these five, perhaps "orchid" can be seen as a euphemism, though
evidently if the artist thought so he wouldn't have used it.  The rest are
indelicate, obscene to those who find them obscene, but not "euphemisms" in
the pre-post-literate sense of the word.

"Vagina", on the other hand, is undoubtedly a euphemism.  The OED shows it
first in 1682:
T. Gibson *Anat. Humane Bodies* 20   It has passages..for the neck of the
Bladder, and in Women for the vagina of the Womb.

It finds "cunt" in the 14th century:
[*c*1230   in Ekwall *Street-Names of City of London* (1954) 165
*a*1325   *Prov. Hendyng* (Camb. Gg. i. 1) st. 42   Yeue þi cunte to cunnig
and craue affetir wedding.
*c*1400   *Lanfranc's Cirurg.* 172/12   In wymmen þe necke of þe bladdre is
schort, & is maad fast to the cunte.
I note that the c1400 passage is fro a medical textbook.

And the Wife of Bath wouldn't have known what her vagina was:

*c*1330  (1300)    *Sir Tristrem* (1886) l. 2254 (*MED*),   Hir queynt
abouen hir kne, Naked þe kniȝtes knewe.
*c*1390   Chaucer *Miller's Tale* 3276   This hende Nicholas Fil with this
yonge wyf to rage and pleye..and pryuely he caughte hire by the queynte.
*c*1415   Chaucer *Wife of Bath's Tale* (Corpus Oxf.) (1872) 608   And
trewely, as myn housbond tolde me, I hadde þe beste queynte
[*Hengwrt*quonyam] þat mighte be.

Meanwhile, by not printing the words that Jason Rhoades, the artist, used,
the Times left the liberal shepherds among its readers to think of grosser
names.   (Sorry, that's the English major breaking out in me again.)


On Sun, Dec 22, 2013 at 8:39 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at>wrote:

> I believe I observed some years ago that "euphemism" has become the favored
> TV-yakker word for "synonym," just as "misnomer" is the word they use for
> "misconception." And "substitute" for "replace."
> JL
> On Sun, Dec 22, 2013 at 5:06 AM, W Brewer <brewerwa at> wrote:
> > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> > -----------------------
> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> > Poster:       W Brewer <brewerwa at GMAIL.COM>
> > Subject:      Re: the new "euphemism"
> >
> >
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > JD: <<<... vagina ... vulva > ... womb ... "uterus" ... Clearly, it's a
> > case of the part for the whole.>>
> > WB: Or the whole for the hole.
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society -
> >
> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

The American Dialect Society -

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