In front of Victoria Palace Theatre of London stands a 12-foot tall clock tower called Little Ben, a miniature of its more famous big brother at Westminster Abbey. Little Ben is erected in honor of Franco-English friendship, and it has an apology for summer time carved on its base:
My hands may retard or they may advance.
My heart beats true for England and for France.
Here we see that “retard” simply means “slow down” and when this word was used to describe a mentally handicapped person half a century ago, it was already a euphemism, and it was commonly used as seen in The Child Who Never Grew by Pearl Buck in 1950, the first book that openly discussed the problems of having a retarded child. However, because of its negative connotations, “retarded” is now deemed as a blunt and politically incorrect word, and professionals including doctors, nurses, and social workers use “mentally disabled” or “mentally disadvantaged” instead.
The problem with some euphemisms is, whatever the expressions, what they signify remain the same, so negative connotations gradually gather around them, and they become equally explicit as their predecessors and will have to be replaced, thus presenting challenges for translators to catch the meanings of these ever eluding expressions. We constantly need to learn trendy euphemistical phrases, so as to be able to understand some professionals, although we may not have the equivalents in the languages for translation, such as the phrases the word “used” has been euphemized into: second hand ==> pre-owned ==> pre-loved.
The function of euphemism is to offer a mild, indirect, and, sometimes, vague expression as a substitute that sounds better or appears more polite for blunt precision or disagreeable truth. Some euphemisms are so deeply embedded in our minds that they present no understanding difficulties such as these for body functions and social taboos: to use the toilet or powder-room, and to pass away. Others, like those used by politicians or professionals, are less familiar to us: liquidation for assassination, liberation for aggression, misconduct or intimacy for adultery, development districts for distressed areas, the underprivileged for the poor, unmarried wives for mistresses, and maladjusted children for juvenile delinquents. Let’s see how many euphemisms you know in the list below.
1. Sufferer from fictitious disorder syndrome
3. Temporarily displaced inventory
4. Negative gain in test scores
5. Synthetic glass
6. Sanitation worker
7. Vegetarian leather
8. Thermal therapy kit
9. Collateral damage
10. Reutilization marketing yard
11. Tonsorial artist
14. Mental disorder
15. Rodent operator
A. Stolen goods, B. Junkyard, C. Plastic, D. Bag of ice cubes,
E. Garbage collector F. Civilian casualties, G. Liar, H. Vinyl,
I. Failed, J. Lower test scores, K. Undertaker, L. Insanity,
M. Rat catcher, N. Drunk, O. Hairdresser
Should you feel this test too confusing, you could find the clues to some harder words in the following context: “If you achieved negative gain in the test scores, please do not feel sub-optimal. I would be regarded as a sufferer from fictitious disorder syndrome, if I did not tell you the truth that this test was actually temporarily displaced inventory that belongs to reutilization marketing yard.” If this is still not as clear as daylight, look at the answers. Nobody will say you are being less than honest.
Answers: 1=G, 2=I, 3=A, 4=J=5=C, 6=E=7=H, 8=D, 9=F, 10=B, 11=O, 12=N, 13=K, 14=L, 15=M.