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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Linguistic Beauty Lies In Art of Euphemism

You discover the real potential of any language -- and the real skill of any speaker -- not when someone is trying to say something as precisely as possible, but when someone is trying as hard as possible not to say something. That is, linguistic beauty often lies not in precision, but in euphemism.

It takes imagination, for instance, to refer to a war as "a police action;" it takes linguistic genius to refer to the destruction of Chechnya as ustanovka konstitutsionnogo poryadka (the restoration of constitutional order). During Stalin's purges, a death sentence was not called a death sentence, but desyat' let bez prava perepiski (ten years without the right of correspondence). Stalin also preferred to use the word pereseleniye (resettlement) instead of deportatsiya (deportation) when discussing his policy on ethnic minorities.

Other evfemizmy (euphemisms), though, are actually used for noble reasons -- to be polite or not hurt someone's feelings. One advertisement for a treatment for baldness claims to be beneficial dlya lyudei, kotorykh pokinuli volosy (for people who have been abandoned by their hair). The polite way of saying that someone was fired is to use the verb otstranit' (to discharge someone) instead of uvolit' (to fire).

A polite way of saying that someone is stupid is to merely point out that he is nepronitsayemy dlya opyta (opaque to experience). To the clever speaker, a drunk is not a drunk, but a poklonnik Vakkha (an adherent of Bacchus). If you think that someone is lying, but you don't want to say so directly, you can merely accuse him of otkloneniye ot istiny (deviation from the truth).

If you listen carefully, you can hear linguistic clues that tell you that you are dealing with euphemisms. People tend to couch them among expressions like myagko govorya (mildly speaking) or tak nazyvayemy (so-called). For instance, you can determine someone's political outlook when you hear him talk about the tak nazyvayemaya stabilizatsiya ekonomiki (the so-called stabilization of the economy).

The criminal sphere is also a breeding ground for euphemisms. For criminals, the protection racket is a krysha (roof), and gaps in Russia's legislative code are nishi (niches). Government officials often prefer to speak of netselevoye ispol'zovaniye deneg (the wrongful use of money) instead of korruptsiya (corruption).

Finally, one often encounters euphemisms around the subject of death, since no one likes talking about that. One recent newspaper article stated, for instance, that pilotu katapul'tirovat'sya ne udalos' (the pilot was not able to eject), instead of saying that he died. Another quoted a doctor as saying that a man poluchil raneniye, nesovmestimoye s zhizn'yu (had received wounds that were incompatible with life). Needless to say, he died too.