Advanced ESL/EFL Vocabulary: Euphemisms

lawnclosed1.jpg“I’m an EFL teacher and so often find myself in a rather economically disadvantaged state, but luckily I got some short-term economic stimulus from my school and went out for a drink to celebrate. By the end of the evening, I was three sheets to the wind, and on Saturday morning was accordingly a bit under the weather. Fortunately, I recovered by the afternoon, and ended the day on a good note by helping a visually challenged senior citizen cross the road.”

These are, of course, euphemisms; words used to make something – be it the term “drunk”, “broke”, or “blind”, sound more neutral. Many of them are used more jokingly in English than anything else, but we do actually use others in our speech. I made a joke of it in the Top 10 Clues You Might Just Be An EFL Teacher, but if you ask for a restroom in most countries in the world, people really won’t understand you (and you can test people’s reaction in English-speaking countries when you ask for a toilet). I think the fact that euphemisms are a normal part of English is shown by, say, the fact that people really talk about dogs “going to the bathroom” – your dog uses your bathroom?!

I’ve recently had a few lessons on euphemisms – advanced students can often figure them out from a list and find them funny. I of course let them know that many of these are essentially joke terms. But the fact that we use them does seem to show something about the English language, and in the environment of a language class can be quite an interesting topic for discussion about connotation and what words really mean: does it make a difference if we say “domestic coordinator” instead of “housewife”? How are similar terms treated in your students’ languages? And what effect does it have that English can be so easily “added to” (in contrast to many languages which have an official committee that decides what will be and what won’t be a part of the language)?

Thanks to teacher Richard, who participated in a TEFL Logue interview about teaching in Turkey, I can link you to some euphemisms, and then to comedian George Carlin’s take on euphemisms (though this is from Steve, who is not a teacher, but who is well-regarded by the TEFL Logue in any case).