Call A Spade A … Shovel

If you have read these outpourings before – thank you for coming back – or if it’s your first time, but you already know me – where have you been? – you will have gathered that I am rather a logophile. Or if you prefer, a lover of words. If, however, this is, by some sad mischance, the first time you have come across this blog, and you don’t know me, permit me to inform you that I am rather a logophile. I have, since early childhood, enjoyed, played with, loved and cherished words. There is no word too long or too short, too good or too bad, or, indeed, too anything else to be used. I love them all dearly.

However, the cruelty to, or the improper deployment of words, can grievously displease me. One of the most egregious of these linguistic sins, beloved by corporate fools and the squeamish, is the euphemism.

Of course there are times when crude terminology should be replaced by something more gentle. It is perfectly reasonable to hold the view that lavatorial or sexual activities, for example, ought, in polite society, to be couched in euphemistic terms. But it is ridiculous to have to handle every other aspect of life with metaphorical kid gloves. Or should that be “metaphorical manual protection garments constructed from the leather of juvenile caprines”?

“Corporate speak” is generally irritating. Products and services are “monitised”, appointments are “diarised”, and, according to some woman who wrote a report for her employers, those on the margins of society have been “minoritised”. God help us! But the endless euphemisms in vogue in the business world do nothing but artificially inflate a person’s job or position. They create corporate delusions.

Not that long ago, companies had “personnel” departments. Now those departments are called “Human Resources”, thus “commoditising” people. Not kind. “Bin Men” are now “Waste Collection Operatives”. Cashiers in supermarkets are now in possession of some ridiculous job title such as “Customer Service Operative”, or “Personal Financial Depletion Executive”. The man who polishes the shoes of American senators has been declared to be a government functionary, and been furnished with the magnificently over the top job title of “Chief Footwear Maintenance Engineer”. It’s certainly less prosaic than his former job title of “Shoe Shine Boy”, even though one suspects that the pay is similar. There are a whole host of other operatives, executives, engineers, managers, supervisors and consultants. Aren’t these things horrible? I could give you more disgusting examples, but I don’t want to be responsible for damaging you in any way.

The other area of life filled with irritating euphemisms is, well, actually the opposite, death. This is, of course, nothing new. Such things occur in both testaments of the Bible. Man “goeth to his long home”, according to the author of Ecclesiastes, and the writers of the Gospels tell us that Jesus “yielded” or “gave up the Ghost”. There are so many of them. Of course, dear reader, if you wish to be reminded of a fine collection of examples, you could do worse than find Monty Python’s “Dead Parrot” sketch.

In April 2018, I phoned someone to let him know that my father had died. Please note, dear reader, that I said “died”. I didn’t say that he had “shuffled off this mortal coil”, nor that he had “ceased upon the midnight”. He couldn’t have. He didn’t die at midnight. And quite frankly, saying that he had “ceased upon the 17:35 hours” would have sounded stupid. At the end of the conversation, I was thanked for “letting me know about your father’s passing”. Hmm. His passing? Given the fact that he was lying immobile in a stationary bed at the crucial moment, what or who did he pass? Or was it a delicate reference to his bowels? I beg to state herewith, for the benefit of the recipient of my 2018 phone call, that dying is not the same as shitting. Although I do concede that the former necessarily leads to the latter.

Not only are these cloying, sickly-sweet terms and expressions, to my mind, inherently revolting. But they are also unhelpful. If we insist upon sugar-coating life’s bitter pills, we will, if we haven’t already done so, create a society of conversational diabetics.

As I said above, there are times when euphemisms are necessary. Or can, at least, reasonably be considered necessary. Usually, these are for the sake of good manners. However, for the most part, we need to recognise that sesquipedalian words and needlessly prolix, pleonastic, and often tautological phrases are both ridiculous and superfluous, and that in the vast majority of cases, an unloquacious and diminutive linguistic utterance or inscription, will more than satisfactorily meet any and all communicational necessities.

One response to “Call A Spade A … Shovel”

  1. I know you sometimes chat with Basil. This is a new blog he shares. He does write well I think. Hope you enjoy it

    Sent from my iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

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