In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros

Avoiding Offensive Comments

Are you now all ears (late 18thC) — eager to listen to what I have to say? OK. Now, hear this: Most of what people say goes in one ear and out the other (14thC). It is quickly lost sight of — a train of thought barreling through the dark tunnel of forgetfulness with nothing to impede its disappearance.

In the age of political correctness, words must be music to our ears, pleasant and soothing — euphonious from the Greek ey, "well" and phone, "sound." Hence we favor the euphemism, using pheme, that it might "sound well" to us.

Creating a euphemism is easy. Just transform the offensive word into something longer, more complex, or abstract. You can also replace it with a foreign word, lending it even further cachet. This explains those frantic folks who scream "merde" while they run madly to the facilities to perform a simple act of defecation.

But alas, the euphemism's life is brief. As it becomes more and more familiar, its real meaning is easily intuited. Next comes that moment when its use becomes even more common and familiar than the insulting word it has replaced. Eventually it too offends, becomes verboten and cries out for a euphemism to replace it. Need we be reminded that "ass" was once a euphemism for "arse?"

Is there no place, then where we can escape such verbal assaults? Try utopia, a word penned by Sir Thomas More who used eu, "well" which he punned with ou "not" and coupled with topos, "place," to create a "good place that is no place." And there you are.