Skip to comments.Euphemisms have a place in human discourse but not when they obscure moral truth
Posted on 05/29/2014 1:38:02 AM PDT by markomalley
One of the subtleties of language is the use of euphemisms. A euphemism is the use of a less offensive synonym, word or phrase in place of another term that might be considered too direct, harsh, unpleasant, or offensive. It substitutes an agreeable or inoffensive expression in place of one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant. The word comes from the Greek euphemismos: from eu (auspicious, good, pleasant), + pheme speech.
In many cases euphemisms are harmless, even rooted in a kind of charity and a desire not to offend unnecessarily. For example we may say that someone has passed away, or departed, rather than say they died. A woman may say she is going to powder her nose, rather say she is going to the bathroom. We may say a man is stocky, or a woman full figured, rather than saying they are fat or overweight. Parents say they are going to have the talk with their kids or to speak about the birds and bees, rather than say, I am going to talk to my kids about sex.
In many ways these are polite circumlocutions that get across the basic message but seek charitably to describe less pleasant notions in more pleasant or discrete ways.
Some euphemisms are downright silly: You arent poor, you are economically disadvantaged; a company isnt failing it is being rightsized; You arent broke, you have negative cash flow; its not a used car it is pre-owned; your stocks arent loosing money they are underperforming assets; and that booze youre drinking is an adult beverage. Silly stuff really.
But in some cases, euphemisms cause harm since they seek to deceive by hiding the truth of things that are morally wrong. It is one thing to describe a reality politely or softly, but it is another thing to outright hide the reality of something by using substitutional words meant more to distort or conceal what is actually going on.
Most odious is the use of phrases and terms meant to conceal the violent murder of a child in the womb by abortion. Thus proponents of this horrifying act resort to euphemisms such as choice .reproductive rights .reproductive freedom , womens health etc. Abortion facilities are called clinics, Womens Healthcare Centers etc. The brutal reality is that the choice being advocated is the killing of a child in the womb most usually accomplished by methods such as chemical poisoning (abortifacients), chemical burning (saline), curettage (scraping), dismemberment, suctioning and other awful and violent things. Choice and other such terms do not merely render this act more politely. Terms like this intentionally seek to deceive and hide the awful reality of what is happening.
In the area of sexuality too many euphemisms seek to render sinful things in more pleasant terms what is mare plainly called sin. These euphemisms are not merely polite terms but seek more to obscure and even celebrate what is sinful.
Thus what we used to call fornication, shacking up and living in sin, is now called cohabitation living together and common law marriage. Never mind that fornicators do not inherit the kingdom of God (e.g. 1 Cor 6:9; Eph 5:5; Gal 5:19-21) and that this sort of behavior dishonors marriage and has caused great harm to families and children who die by abortion (85% of abortions are performed on single women) and if they survive still face the injustice of being raised in broken or incomplete homes.
Sadly this sinful behavior is rendered in abstract and pleasant terms and outright celebrated in popular culture. The euphemisms do not help in disclosing the reality that what is really going on here is illicit sexual union that is offensive to God, dishonoring of marriage (Heb 13:4), harmful to children and destructive of culture.
And of course there are many euphemisms associated with homosexuality. Nothing could be more abstract and misleading than the term gay. Even homosexuality is a recently coined term to replace the biblical term sodomy and sodomite. And while the Church is careful to distinguish between orientation and the actual sin of homosexual acts, we must be clear that even the orientation is disordered. That is the desire is not order to its proper goal. So euphemistic is the word gay that most people never even stop to consider what homosexual acts actually involve.
A recent article by Kevin OBrien in Gilbert: The Magazine of the Chesterton Society speaks to the modern problem we face wherein homosexual acts are considered only abstractly:
Take the recent flap involving Phil Robertson of duck dynasty . Who made what was once the rather normal observation that our sex organs are not designed for the degraded use that is made of them by male homosexuals .
The problem was that Robertson did not use euphemisms, but described rather vividly and accurately what gay sex consists of. (Page 3, vol 17, No 4, Jan/Feb 2014)
Frankly, the physical reality is rather an unpleasant thing for the average person to consider. Uncloaked from euphemisms and abstractions like gay two people loving each other, the physical description of the act discloses to the average person how abnormal the action is, and that the organs involved are not intended for the purposes for which they are being used.
Frank language alert. Skip this paragraph if you do not wish to read non euphemistic descriptions of sexual behavior. To be utterly non-euphemistic, an anus is intended to assist in the expelling of feces. It is not a sexual organ and those who use it as such (homosexual or heterosexual) engage in disordered sexual behavior. They deviate from what nature and God provide for and intend. It is no surprise that disease, tearing and infection result from this sort of unhealthy behavior. Likewise too for the mutual masturbation that occurs in the other deviant and disordered practices of both homosexuals and some heterosexual couples.
Calling a spade a spade, as Phil Robertson did, blows the cover under which the abnormal folks are hiding the cover of euphemism of coming up with a false and fancy way of saying something to gloss over and obscure the truth it represents. GK Chesterton said it best, [Many] depend almost entirely on euphemism. They introduce their horrible heresies under new and carefully complementary names The names are always flattery; the names are also nonsense.
OBrien Concludes: The furor of the gay community over Robertsons statement belies a troubled conscience. (Ibid)
Other troubling euphemisms exist such as calling patient suicide or the killing of the ill and dying euthanasia (a Greek rooted word meaning good or pleasant death). It is not good, it is sinful. It is either suicide or murder, but in no way is it good and it cannot in abstract terms like euthanasia. Human being have souls and are not to put down like dumb animals. Suffering is clarifying, sanctifying and noble for human beings. We are not required to prolong life by absurd means. But neither can we diminish the dignity of human life and the dignity of those who suffer by killing them.
We have a lot of euphemisms associated with war and politics too. I will avoid political euphemisms since this is not political blog. But regarding war we have tended to obscure the fact that war is awful. What we call collateral damage means that a lot of innocent people got killed or had their homes and neighborhood bombed to the stone age. At the end of the day war is about killing people and breaking a lot of things; it is a foretaste of hell. No euphemisms (an action, an incursion, a coalition, a war to end all wars operation freedom etc) can or should seek to cover this fact. I am no pacifist but we need to be clear war is awful, it is bloody, and once begun, it is VERY difficult to ensure that even the best intentions do not go sour and evil in the fog of war. War sets loose and invites the very demons of hell; it is ugly and awful no matter what party or president calls for it. It is no video game and it should always be a last recourse in grave circumstances.
So, Euphemisms have a place when charity and discretion are the goal. But too easily and often today euphemisms are not used in charity but are used to hide the truth and render abstract and murky what is sinful and wrong. We do well to insist on honesty in labeling. Charity, yes, but the truth cannot be sacrificed. Veritatem in Caritate (The Truth in Charity).
Msgr Pope ping
Msgr. Pope does not mention that master of pernicious euphemism, his boss, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
It is a mortal sin to give Communion to Nancy Pelosi. Doing so necessarily causes grave scandal. And it’s a sacrilege.
Cardinal Wuerl, however, insists on giving Communion to Nancy Pelosi and other pro-abortion nominal Catholics.
He calls his commission of mortal sin—and his commanding his priests to commit the same mortal sin—a “pastoral approach.”
Just for curiosity, have you ever commented about this this blind side you've repeatedly discussed on Msgr Pope's blog, itself?
If so, what was his response to your observation?
I enjoyed reading this, markomalley, and I appreciate your posting it .
It’s a tiny concern, to be sure, but did this appear in the original: “your stocks arent loosing money”?
Excellent idea, Mark. Here’s is a good opportunity for some articulate orthodox Catholics to press the good Msgr to look hard at the steaming heaps of bafflegab coming from the USCCB.
I enjoyed reading this. Thank you for posting!
Outstanding from Monsignor Pope. It took guts to put some of these in print.
God bless him.
It’s not unusual to find typos and some garble in these items. It’s Msgr. Pope’s blog, and he clearly doesn’t make a strong editing effort.
You want him to criticize his own boss?
(After I saw your post, I went to the USCCB web site and found the following links for today's news stories there, containing those euphemistic phrases shown above.)
(Can anyone honestly picture Jesus Christ or the Apostles living in giant luxurious mansions like most (NOT all) of the USCCB bishops do, or riding those big limos many of them ride, and then complaining about energy power plants and global warming or climate change, just like Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Joe Biden, and B-O do?)
His response was that there are “prudential” considerations, which I was not taking into account.
But the virtue of prudence has to do ONLY with choosing from among non-sinful alternatives. Giving grave scandal is ALWAYS a mortal sin. Giving Communion to Nancy Pelosi and others of her ilk, is ALWAYS a cause of grave scandal.
Read Cardinal Wuerl’s several statements on the matter. There isn’t a word of truth in any of them, and many falsehoods. Just one example: Repeatedly he refers to Denial of Communion as a “penalty.” It is not a penalty.
The reason he does this is that he wants to pretend that he has the authority to “impose the penalty” or not.
Denial of Communion is not a penalty but an obligation, simply because the alternative (giving Communion in those situations) is a mortal sin.
And how many pro-abortion Catholics received Communion at the Mass on Capitol Hill?
Thanks for the link regarding the USCCB and “carbon pollution.”
This statement puts the USCCB on record in favor of murdering billions of people—because that’s what the global warming hoax is primarily about: Shutting down the economies of the developing world, as well as, or even more thoroughly than, the U.S. economy.
The USCCB has been evil from its inception, when it was founded as the National Catholic Warfare Conference, for the purpose of supporting Woodrow Wilson in instituting a draft and getting us into the war in Europe.
BTW: All this was in open defiance of Pope Benedict XV, who was shouting from the rooftops against a military draft in EVERY country.
Thank you for keeping me in the loop here. This is important, challenging stuff, and Msgr. Pope has to hear about it, and keep hearing about it. I am pondering how to do my bit.