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The formation of English euphemism


The formation of English euphemism
英语语言学 张俏

Abstract: Euphemism is a linguistic phenomenon in English language, as well as a cultural phenomenon in English-speaking society. P

eople use euphemism to avoid speaking taboo language or something unpleasant, impolite or vulgar. This thesis would focus on the formation of English euphemism and from this analyze, we could get more understanding of English in this perspective, contrasting with Chinese euphemism. Key words: euphemism, formation, principle 摘要:委婉语不仅是英语语言中,也是英语社会里一个语言现象。人们使用委婉语来避免 一些类似禁忌、不礼貌、不愉快或者粗俗的用语。这篇论文侧重于分析英语委婉语的构成。 通过细致的了解委婉语的大致构成和构成原则,我们能够更好的了解英语委婉语并从委婉 语的角度了解英语这门语言。 关键词:委婉语、构成、原则 Basically, a euphemism is usually a polite way to say something which is embarrassing or unpleasant. Euphemism is widely used in daily life to replace another word or phrase which is thought of as too direct or rude. Lexically, Western linguists think that the word “euphemism” is composed of “eu” and “pheme”, the first morpheme “eu” here means “good” while the second one refers to “speech”, so it literally means “good speech”, “words of good omen”, or “the gilded words”. The formation of English euphemism is various and it can be analyzed from five different perspectives: I. Phonetic means. Phonetic means can widely used to produce euphemism in English. Some unpleasant sounds or word-forms can be omitted or hidden. Phonetic means mainly refers to phonetic omission and phonetic distortion: 1. Phonetic omission. It refers to omitting some parts of the sound to make pronunciation shorter and less unpleasant. For example, we could omit lavatory to lav, or brassiere to bra. 2. Phonetic distortion. In order to avoid violating taboo, the speakers make some alteration in spelling and pronouncing of the taboo words. For example, very religious people consider it a sin of using the name of God in a disrespectful way, so “God” is distorted to “Gosh” or “Golly”! It generally includes: ①Abbreviation. For example, tuberculosis always distorted to TB. Jesus Christ could be abbreviated as JC. ②Reduplication, which reduplicate some syllables or letters of the words to form euphemism. For example, “sis-sis”, “pee-pee” or “wee-wee” replace “piss”. ③ Distortion of the pronunciation. For example we could pronounce “bloody” as “blurry” in some occasion. II. Lexical means. This can be further divided into three sub-means as below: 1. Vague means. It refers to the generalization of the specific meanings to alleviate the bad effect of fear, shames or anxiety. For example, we could say “You’ve lost license” instead of “Your fly is open” or we always use “partner” to mean “sex-companion”. 2. Synonym replacement. Making use of the subtle differences of synonyms in emotional color is another common way to make the euphemism, which is more polite and acceptable. For

example, we could say someone “went to sleep” instead of saying he was died. We also could use some words like “slim” or “slender” to show somebody is really skinny. 3. Borrowing loanwords. In the development of English language, English absorbs large amount of vocabulary from other languages. People use the borrowing words to express some taboo. For example, “to have a yen” means to make love, and the word “yen” is represent for “yin” in Chinese. III. Rhetorical means. Some rhetoric of speech can make the language more exact, vivid and implicative. Some figures of speech can make the language more exact, vivid and implicative The following are four major types of figures of speech with its identical examples. 1. Metaphorical transfer. For example, we could say “the flowers or mother nature” to mean the “menses”. And when we express somebody was died, we’d better to say that someone is ceased to think, avoiding rudeness. 2. Synecdoche transfer. This means we could use the whole thing instead of some embarrassed parts in some occasion. For example, when we take physical examination, we always use the word “chest” instead of “breast”. 3. Metonymical transfer. For example, we could use the gray hair to mean the old men, the cradle to mean the childhood. 4. Understatement. This is always used to express some unpleasant things and easier to be accepted by the listener. For example, we could say “your socks are smelly” means “they are really stinking”. And when we’d like to go to the toilet, we’d better say “we want to go to the restroom or powder room”. IV. Grammatical means. American linguist, Bollinger Dwight once pointed out: “Euphemism is not restricted to the lexicon; there are grammatical ways of toning something down without actually changing the content of the message.”(Rawson, 148) Afterwards, the grammatical ways of forming euphemism such as negation, tense, voice, and mood and so on were carefully attended to. For example, in daily communication we usually say that “could you please…?”. Such expressions are very polite compare with the imperative sentences. The grammatical means can be classified into the following ways: 1. Negative is a widely used way in euphemism. Negative expressions are used for suggestion, invitation, or personal opinions. For example, “I don’t think he is clever.” and “Can’t you go and post the letter for me?”, these two sentences show very mild tone and are euphemistical way of speaking. 2. Tense is another important means. In daily life, people are likely to use the proper tense of the verbs “want, wonder, hope, think”. The progressive tense usually shows the wish or request of the speakers. For example, if we’d like to show our politeness, we prefer to say “I am wondering do you mind opening the window.” Or “I am thinking whether you can come dinner with me?” 3. Subjunctive mood is also very common way of forming euphemism. For example, if someone wants to express that her will never marry with Tom, she would say that Tom is the last man I’d like to marry in the world. 4. Verbal phrases and prepositional phrases are effective in euphemism. For example, we’d like to choose the verbal phrase “slip from” instead of “forget” in our expression “The author’s name slipped from my memory at that moment.” When we say he can’t buy the deluxe car, we could say“The deluxe car is beyond his afford.”

Euphemism has different forms. Whatever forms they have, they share four basic principles of formation---the distance principle, the relation principle, the politeness principle and the self-protection principle. Euphemism is an interesting linguistic phenomenon with typical social features. It is changing with the development of the language and the society. Euphemism is frequently used by the English speakers in daily communication as well as well in literature. It is the mirror of western culture and plays an important role in society. There are many means of forming euphemism in accordance with the related principles, so more and more euphemism is coined while some are out of date. Euphemism enables people to talk freely and feel less anxious, embarrassed, and shameful during communication. Bibliography 1. Allan,K.& K.Burridge. Euphemism and Dysphemism: Language Used as Shield and Weapon [M]. Oxford: Oxford University Press,1991. 2. Leech,G. Principle of Pragmatics [M]. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1983. 3. Rawson,H. A Dictionary of Euphemism and Other Doubletalk [M].New York: Crown Publisher.1981. 4. Yule,G. Pragmatics [M]. Oxford: Oxford University Press,1961. 5. 邓炎昌& 刘润清.语言与文化[M].北京:外语教学与研究出版社. 6. 邓欢.英语委婉语的构成及使用场合[J].外国语言与文学,2004 年第 2 期. 7. 刘纯豹.英语委婉语词典[M]. 南京:江苏教育出版社,1993. 8. 束定芳.委婉语新探[J].外国语第 3 期,1989.


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