Whether speaking or writing, we humans use language to influence the thinking of one another; but some individuals and groups try to influence—even manipulate and control—our thoughts. In order to avoid being unconsciously manipulated, we must understand how language functions. If we do, we can distinguish actual arguments, information, and reasons from the persuasive techniques that others may use to promote our acceptance of their viewpoints.
One type of language used to manipulate others is euphemistic language.
Euphemistic language involves “substituting a more pleasant, less objectionable way of saying something for a blunt or more direct way” (Chaffee, 2000). For example, when dealing with death, we might say that someone has “departed this life, passed away, gone to his reward, or blown out the candle” (Chaffee, 2000).
We use euphemisms to smooth over the rough edges of life, to make the offensive inoffensive, and to help make the unbearable bearable. Additionally, people sometimes use euphemistic language to make themselves sound more important and to boost their sense of self-worth. For example, a man may say that he is “a sanitation engineer” instead of a “garbage man.” Or a woman may say that she is “a beauty consultant” instead of a “hairdresser” (Chaffee, 2000).
Yet, Euphemisms can be dangerous if they are used to create misconceptions that can harm you or someone else. For example, if you call yourself a “social drinker” when you are really an “alcoholic,” you are subconsciously denying that you have a problem; and as a result, you may never get the help you need in order to overcome the problem. Another example, a politician may say that he or she made statements that were “perhaps ill informed,” instead of admitting that he or she lied (Chaffee, 2000).
Question: Can you think of some euphemisms that you have heard or read? What purpose did these euphemisms serve for the one who used them? How could they have possibly manipulated your thinking?
Chaffee, J. (2000) Thinking Critically. Houghton Mifflin. New York.