Shawerma Republic It’s a ducking euphemism!

Earlier this month, the BBC received accusations of Tory-pandering when they began replacing the word ‘cuts’ with ‘savings’. Ceasefire columnist Ruqaya Izzidien takes a look at the pervasive, and damaging, dominance of euphemisms in our daily language.

New in Ceasefire, Shawerma Republic - Posted on Monday, March 28, 2011 0:00 - 1 Comment

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By Ruqaya Izzidien

Earlier this month, the BBC received accusations of Tory-pandering when they began replacing the word ‘cuts’ with ‘savings’.

If we fall victim to Poe’s law, we might be inclined to believe that the BBC’s journalists chose oxymoronic headlines such as ‘Savings threat to hundreds of hospital jobs in Cornwall’ in defiance, making a mockery of their friendly government advice. Unlikely as it might be, such dedicated ridicule would demonstrate that when it comes to journalism, the Beeb really is a cut save above the rest.

However, this is nothing new; the political narrative has long been full of euphemisms. That is why we, in ‘developed’ countries, live in a realm of ‘safety’ cameras, where you can be ‘kettled’, arrested under a ‘patriotism’ act and then sent for a nice sip of ‘extraordinary rendition’. If you are lucky, you may still be able to get a platter of ‘freedom’ fries to go with your ‘waterboarding’.

It’s enough to make you save your wrists. Euphemistically (or is it dysphemistically?) speaking, of course.

Politicians, in particular, have always been uncharacteristically generous with their distribution of euphemisms. When the British National Party’s (I, too am very generous- with my definition of ‘politicians’) popularity began to grow about a decade ago, it started with a strategy of euphemising. The party leader, Nick Griffin, encouraged supporters to use “saleable words” on which ‘nobody can attack you’. By using the words “freedom, security, identity‘’, when what the party really means is ‘every last one [foreigner] must go’, they are able to make something filthy- “racial purity”- seem palatable.

The content may be different, but the euphemism is the same. It is typical doublespeak syndrome; if you refer to ‘cuts’ as ‘savings’ for long enough, the line between the two becomes unclear and eventually disappears entirely.

On rare occasions, a euphemism may be cast in order to ‘protect the people’. But politicians euphemise almost universally to save their own skin by playing down a blunder. Both reasons are equally patronising and have the same outcome: manipulation and veiling reality.

This is an etymological hijack. Aside from bastardising the English language, it’s an insult to the intelligence of the public and is entirely misleading. It also inconveniences those who it affects the most; hitting us first with the cuts and then with their concealment. It’s like entering a boxing ring after being told it’s a pillowfight. Play fair.

Those in charge of the governmental narrative cannot replace an accurate word such as ‘cut’ with the seemingly innocuous ‘savings’ or even ‘spending reductions’ and expect to it to go unnoticed or unchallenged.

Granted, we’ve all been there- done something wrong, and then tried to conceal it by hiding it behind something good, or maybe just less bad. But most of us grow out of this spin doctoring before we exit our teens. When I was eight, I spiked my brother’s drink with washing-up liquid (for the record, he absolutely deserved it). He grassed me up to my father who swiftly blew a fuse, the way only an Arab dad can. Try as little eight-year-old me might have to convince Papa Izzidien that I only poisoned my brother so that he would get the baraka, or blessing, for forgiving me, nobody bought that porkie.

Nobody is buying this narrative either, but still good old Britannia is as euphemistic as ever.
Take the ‘Ministry of Defence’, who have a penchant for casting ‘pre-emptive strikes’ against ‘insurgents’ with their ‘smart weapons’, occasionally causing ‘friendly fire’ and ‘collateral damage’.

The pen isn’t just mightier than the sword; it is the sword’s pimp. When we call a ‘cut’ a ‘saving’, it is simply the pen, offering the sword’s illicit and lewd services and masking them as something beautiful.

So demand that spending is not marketed as an ‘investment’ and that cuts are not offered as ‘spending reductions’ or ‘savings’.

Until then, I suggest that those who oppose the lavish offering of euphemisms counterbalance it by doing the opposite- using awkward and melodramatic dysphemisms at every opportunity. Even if this is ineffective in eliminating euphemisms, the exaggeration will make you feel better, guaranteed. Now excuse me while I go and stab myself in the eye.

Ruqaya Izzidien is a writer, cartoonist and a spoken word artist. Her column, ‘Shawerma Republic’ appears every other week.

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It’s a ducking euphemism! | Shawerma Republic
Mar 28, 2011 11:02

[…] my latest column for Ceasefire Magazine, I explain how the English language is being comandeered by politics and what you can do about it. […]

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