|Holding on to Summer|
The Two Ronnies once did a skit about a man at a party trying desperately to find out from his host where an urgently-needed bathroom could be found. He phrased his request in euphemism: I need to see a man about a horse. His host introduced him to another guest who happened to be a horse breeder.
Euphemism gentrifies situations too delicate to be dealt with outright, like passed away, or left us, instead of died. We're generally grateful that people say I need to visit your washroom, when we know a visit isn't really the need being announced.
Frankness can be unthinkable.
I listened to Mitt Romney's acceptance speech last night and was amazed again how much the utterance of meaningless phrases like I support family values have become politicians' pronouncements of choice. Family values is a euphemism for opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexuality, but to say what one actually means might be politically scary. The Right to Life has become another popular euphemism, this one signalling more stringent legal controls on abortion. For some reason, we voters allow the euphemisms to live without requiring that they be supported with at least some plan that can be firmly understood, evaluated and judged. The literal meaning behind political euphemism is left to be discovered after elections.
One response to the speech on the internet asked Romney if he supports investigations in every case of miscarriage to determine if criminal negligence on the part of the mother has been a factor. I asked my Conservative MP whether or not his views on when life begins and his support of revisiting the definition could end up meaning that abortions would result in murder convictions, accessory to murder trials and life sentences. He has so far declined to answer.
The plague of euphemism for signalling stances and embellishing credentials--as opposed to clearly stating positions-- extends to churches, schools, public dialogue generally. It's not surprising: our peers' opinions of us rank highly in consciousness and in many cases the uttering of controversial, divergent-from-prevailing thoughts can cost the speaker a job . . . or worse. Euphemism can serve to express something that is not quite, but yet; that leans toward, but not completely; that allows different hearers to interpret utterances according to their preference.
But in the end, I need to see a man about a horse may not get you what you need, which is to urinate in a place designated for that purpose—and soon.
Similarly, when life begins and I support family values don't necessarily say anything at all, although those who use these and similar expressions may think they communicate something specific. Biological human life doesn't begin, it is passed down from generation to generation, and in the latter case, it's clear that family values are not uniformly held at all, and certainly not across cultures.
If we don't begin to speak in real language, we'll never find a toilet and we'll all continue peeing our pants on a regular basis.
So, Mitt Romney and all you politicians who elicit waves of applause just by saying, “I support family values,” I challenge you to say it for real:
“I will do everything in my power to make same-sex marriage illegal and will also seek to make all laws that pertain to human beings applicable from conception onward, i.e. a fetus is a person and a citizen.”
Now let some genuine debating begin.
The American Dream. Another euphemism, and a cliché to boot. George Carlin famously said, “The reason they call it The American Dream is that you have to be asleep to believe it!”
Perhaps we prefer to sleep through the tough stuff; the tough stuff takes work, thought, listening and talking specifics.
Or, just utter another euphemism and doze on!