Offering help for writers and language learners, this series of posts is a resource for all word lovers.
This week’s words: Euphemism, Asyndeton, 9 p.m. at night, can of worms.
Euphemism – Roget lists these headers: underestimation, trope, falsehood, ornament, good taste, affectation, flattery, and prudery. Under the sub-heading ‘prudery’ are a further 29 alternatives including squeamishness, false modesty, priggishness, coyness, sanctimoniousness, and censorship.
Euphemism is also a figure of speech, which means failing to use the accurate word to describe something; e.g. the habit of the military in calling accidental civilian deaths ‘collateral damage’. Or the politician’s addiction to referring to benefits paid out to companies as ‘tax breaks’, so that they can then use ‘benefits’ as an insulting term for the same type of payments made to poor people.
Let’s look at usage for: Euphemism
‘Many religious groups employ euphemisms to describe body parts or bodily functions, as they believe the correct word will give offence.’
‘The preacher used a well-known euphemism in his sermon to describe the man’s adultery to the congregation.’
Figure of speech:
Asyndeton: A figure that omits conjunctions.
‘Stormy, raging, wild the sea washed over the decks.’
‘They dashed for cover, exposed as they were, hobbling on the pebbles, keen to hide from sight.’
Redundancies are words serving no semantic purpose. In speech, they act as spacers, giving the speaker time to think. But in writing, except when representing natural conversation, they impede the reader’s progress.
This week’s example: ‘9 p.m. at night’
A common mistake made by even professional journalists and announcers, you’ll often hear them telling audiences that a particular incident occurred at 9 p.m. at night. Since ‘p.m.’ is an abbreviation of post meridian, which means after midday, the reference to ‘night’ is redundant. It’s best to use either ‘p.m.’ or ‘afternoon, evening, night’ as applicable.
Cliché; a cliché is a stereotyped or hackneyed expression; a phrase, opinion or other element of language that’s been so overused it no longer holds any power. However, clichés usually come into being as the result of their original ability to describe a situation or quality. Their use should be sparing and appropriate; in dialogue, they’re acceptable, providing the speaking character would use such expressions.
can of worms: an expression describing an unintended situation in which problems result from poorly considered action or words.
‘The leader’s comments about extremist groups being the same as peaceful protestors opened a can of worms.’
We could use, ‘The leader’s comments about extremist groups being the same as peaceful protestors exposed his ignorance of the truth and his prejudice against the politics of the non-violent dissenting groups.’
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