Browsing through Arts and Letters Daily, I found this article: Banished Words, Is slang the natural evolution of language, or just a ginormous trickeration of all that is sensible?
The ALD article reminded me of this routine by the late George Carlin, an American stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist, actor and writer/author. He was provocatively outspoken, deliberately vulgar, and usually as thought-provoking as amusing. He did not condescend to his audience, and in interviews was articulate and well-informed. Some called him the thinker’s comedian.
A euphemism is a generally harmless word, name, or phrase that replaces an offensive or suggestive one. Some euphemisms intend to amuse, while others intend to give positive appearances to negative events or even mislead entirely. Euphemisms are used for dissimulation, to refer to taboo topics (such as disability, sex, or death) in a polite way, and to mask profanity. The opposite of euphemism roughly equates to dysphemism.
Euphemisms are used in a variety of situations for numerous reasons. A person who wishes to be vague might conceal words that are too precise in the social context. For example an acquaintance might knock on a bedroom door and ask the occupant, “Are you decent?” Such a question is a euphemism for “Is your body clothed to the extent that you will feel comfortable if I enter and see you?” Euphemistic language is also used to replace crude or inappropriate language, such as saying, “I am indisposed” to replace specifics such as, “I am sitting on the toilet defecating.” And if profanity is undesirable, a person might simply forgo the offensive word, such as saying, “Kiss my you-know-what!” instead of the more vulgar, “Kiss my ass.” (Wikipedia)
I do not agree with the statement in Wikipedia that euphemisms are generally harmless. Carlin makes many good points. Political correctness can be taken too far, and social niceties are often phony. In my opinion everyone, including the press and political candidates should speak clearly and plainly, should say what they mean and mean what they say.
Our language does need work, though. Yesterday on my way into a store at the mall, I heard a young man use the “f word” seven times in a few sentences. I was not being nosy… he was almost shouting at the young woman with him. It was really “cringe-worthy”. (Ouch)
Last week I was so annoyed at the incompetence and arrogance of a certain individual that I really needed to use an appropriately insulting pejorative term. I was speechless. All the really powerful “bad words” have been cheapened by overuse in everyday contexts. They have lost their ability to express strong emotion, their ability to shock and awe. Using them no longer registers intense emotion… they merely identify the speaker as an ignoramus with poor vocabulary skills. I was reduced to saying that I was very angry and disappointed!