Language is about playing with words where we have to deal with layers of meanings. Many times we say something but don’t mean it and at times we communicate a lot by blurting minimum words, diplomatic phrases or even silence. Brutal facts, and, awkwardness of situations and relationships push us to be indirect and polite in our conversation. Still, mostly we are successful in saying what we intend to due to the pragmatics. So, the best part is that euphemism lessens the intensity of painful situations and facts.
Saying No to one’s requests, suggestions, support, excuses and explanation is another challenge. That’s so because we care for our dear ones and our personal relationships. Sometimes, when a friend asks us to join him on the tea party and we are unable to do so, what else can we say except:
“I wish I could, but you know I will have to leave now. Would you mind if we plan a get together some other time?”
Silence is another smart way of saying No. We practice it in our everyday Facebook conversation:
Sometimes, deliberately and usually humorously, we give a totally irrelevant reply to a question. The aim is distracting the conversation, obviously, in order to avoid the answer or personal opinion on a particular matter in an effort of face saving.
Foreigner Principal: (getting defensive): In Urdu…Oh yes, I know.
In the same way, sometimes by being a little bit of tactful, we save many hearts from breaking at workplace as well. For example, a preschool teacher knows how to communicate to mothers of her students in a diplomatic way while conveying them their child’s misbehavior or academic weaknesses. A conversation can give us a real picture:
Parents: “I am worried my son doesn’t eat well at school.”
Preschool Teacher: “Yeah, actually he loves readymade (not ‘junk’) food rather than homemade (not ‘health food’) lunch.”
Teacher: “(smiling) He is a little too naughty (rather than “hyper active and undisciplined).”
Parent: “Does he listen to you?”
Teacher: “(Smiling) Depends upon his mood. You know he is a bit moody (instead of ‘not really’).”
The best thing is, the mother got the entire picture without being hurt or annoyed. That’s how the professional relationship between a teacher and a parent has been prevented from being ruined; in a school business who can afford to lose their parent-clients?
In our daily life, sometimes, we are not in a position to deal with a question directly; we can’t say a clear yes or no. So, we try to cover/protect ourselves through a polite and distracting conversation. All the talk is apparently very reasonable and logical, but in fact, does not reply the asked question directly and clearly. You will be amused by the further conversation between the same teacher and the parent:
Teacher: “(Who is not ready to take the responsibility of the incident, trying to protect herself) Oh really? Let me look into the matter today….. As you know, it’s a preschool and kids are very young. So, sometimes they forget their diaries or notebooks in their desks, or, sometimes, they exchange them by mistake….But I will certainly sort it out.”
Parent: “(Satisfied) OK.”
Thus, the teacher is successful in keeping the trust of the parent.
Flattery is sometimes taken as a euphemism in the business world and sometimes we experience incidents like this.
Here, flattering strategy is used as a motivation for buying of a certain product; in fact, between the lines aim was to sell a certain product without threatening the face of the middle-aged lady. Alongside, it was a way of motivating her to buy the product.
Many times, as an employer or authority, we want to guide others without being direct or rude. Thus, rather than being rude and direct, like, Do this/that, You are expected to/should have do/done this, You don’t match our criteria for a certain thing, you are less proficient than what is required in a certain area, etc., we adopt a positive and polite strategy, Suggestion Strategy, that is not only comforting but also face saving for the speaker and listener both.
It means that the employer refused to hire the candidate indicating towards his lack of spoken English skills in a positive and hopeful way.
Similarly, taboos are always hard to discuss in any society, but with an open and exposed media, we have learned how to talk about the forbidden topics in an indirect and polite way which gives us freedom to communicate without any hesitation and with honesty. For that purpose, we replace taboo terms by euphemistic expressions, like we may call after death money matters as life insurance, will, a barber as a hair stylist, a prostitute as a party girl, sex as sleeping together, sex body organs as secret parts, pee for urine, ‘Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome as AIDS, death as God’s call, firing from jobs as downsizing, poor as underprivileged, bribery as donation, etc.
In the educated, civilized and globalized world, face saving of the speaker and listener is given priority in the interest of both the parties as human welfare and relationships are the main concerns. However, we need to be smart enough to read between the lines as the same euphemism can be used for opposite purpose. Simultaneously, we should not let it be used to conceal our individual and collective weaknesses and issues. While dealing with different kinds of situations and people we should keep in mind that euphemism doesn’t work for all settings. Sometimes, it is more effective to be dysphemistic (direct and assertive). So, we have to develop the prudence whether to be euphemistic or not in a given context.