Friday, January 10, 2014

Can you please show me the way to the euphemism?

I consider myself a tolerant man but there are three things I can't stand.  The first is the excessive and unnecessary use of the euphemism.  I see the euphemism as an anachronistic devise cooked up by puritans in the 16th century and is rightly classified in the same category as the lunatic act of covering up the legs of pianos in the Victorian era because they were thought to be "too suggestive".

My second pet peeve is the careless misquotation of a famous saying to which one has easy access.  Certainly when a Christian organisation such as a chapel of a Christian Mission school quotes the Holy Bible, I expect it to make no mistake whatsoever.

The third thing I positively detest is the increasingly popular use of the ellipsis.  I have a hunch that those who use this are either too lazy to complete their sentence or are too unsure of their grammar to write in full.  Sometimes, the three-dot ellipsis (...) is used in lieu of the full stop by writers afflicted with the Michelin-star syndrome who view three dots as superior to one.  How many times have we all seen someone write on his Facebook wall, "Look at this..." when he meant "Look at this."?

When I saw this banner placed in front of a school and it didn't surprise me in the least that it was THAT school, I was miffed to see all three of my pet peeves in that single ugly poster.

This is a poster put up by a chapel of a Christian school with the intention presumably of inviting passers-by to attend chapel services.  The quotation comes from, as the poster clearly indicates, John 7:37.  If you were a motorist, like me, who were passing by the school on a speeding car as I was and you took a fleeting glance of this poster as I did, what would your impression be?  I immediately and quite rightly too thought this was a deliberate truncation of the original verse because the quotation doesn't just end with an honest full-stop and not even the usual three dots of an ellipsis but FOUR bold large dots that seem to be screaming "We're hiding something!!!"

When I first saw the poster, I chuckled to myself.  The words of the son of Sirach in Ecclus. 24:21 (yes I know that's the Apocrypha but we aren't all militant fundamentalists, are we?) flashed in my mind,
"They who drink of me," says Wisdom, "shall thirst again".

There we have it - "drink of me". 

Elsewhere in the Holy Gospels, we hear Jesus saying "...whoever feeds on me, he also will live ..." John 6:57. 

Now, it's "feed on me". 

Who can blame me when having called to memory such holy verses, I thought the words the designer of the poster lopped off were "of me" and the verse should read "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink of me."  What other function can the four dots have if they don't act as an ellipsis?  Can I be blamed for thinking that the words were deleted for the same reason that the legs of a piano were covered more than a century ago? I thought it likely that they wanted to avoid a situation of school children giggling at the poster which was designed to have an evangelistic impact. The designer was wrong not to quote the Bible faithfully and to add three misleading dots to the original single full stop. He should have known better than to subtract or add any jot, tittle or, if I may add, dot to the scriptural quotation.

Human beings are a peculiar species.  We don't mind doing a whole lot of things but we are ashamed of putting them in words.

Sometimes, instead of using the euphemism, blank spaces are used in print.  Victorian novels are notorious for putting blank spaces within a word, eg. "I can't bear his d____d impudence."  But swear words beginning with the letter "d" are all that you will see in Victorian novels.  Modern novelists do not have the same ridiculous scruples, even when they are using swear words that begin with the letter "f".  But most people are careful with the word in print.

We defecate every day but we think it's inappropriate to say it in words. Excrement and its synonyms are usually avoided but for some reason, it's more acceptable to spell out in full all these words that mean the same thing as long as that word doesn't begin with the letter "s".  We can say with impunity excrement, crap, faeces, droppings, poop, dung, excreta and turd but try saying "shit" and a lot of people I know will blush with shame.

Some countries have a more heightened sensitivity to such words.  In the US, the word "toilet" is taboo.  "Bathroom" which is quite a different room from the toilet is frequently used as a euphemism for toilet although why one needs a euphemism for "toilet" is something I can't quite understand.  "Restroom", "washroom", "WC" and "convenience" are common substitutes for "toilet".

In the US, this obsession with the euphemism invades even schools.  The humble rubber which is found in a pencil box in any schoolboy's bag is given a fresh new name in the US.  It's called an eraser.  Rubber is a common slang word in the US for a condom and I suppose they don't want teachers to be confused if a young child asks for a rubber in the middle of an important examination. They are known to be quite precocious there and from statistics Durex publishes annually, Americans are the world's largest purchasers of that prophylactic product.

Le coq - symbol of France

Of all the unfortunate denizens of the animal kingdom, the cock has the most ill-fated and star-crossed name and it should not surprise anyone that while in Europe, "cock" in English and "coq" in French raise no disapproving eyebrow, over in America, people generally recoil with puritanical revulsion whenever the word is heard and a new name was coined as long ago as the late 1700s for this hapless fowl.  We know from the OED that the word "rooster" first emerged in American vocabulary around the time America got its independence in the late 18th century.  Because it's coined from irrational shame, "rooster" is a word with a weak etymology.  All birds roost and not just the cock.

What poppycock!

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