Euphemism is a set of linguistic resources aimed at elimination of dominant emotional statements in order to conceal or disguise a stigmatized concept. Many modern euphemisms are the result of the emergence and consolidation of the new socio-political doctrines in the public mind (especially the doctrine of political correctness). Thus, euphemisms, on the one hand, reflect changes which have already taken place in public consciousness, but on the other hand, they contribute to the spread and consolidation of a society to new ideas. Euphemism is a complex linguistic, social and cognitive phenomenon. Studies on euphemisms are presented in lexicology, sociolinguistics, and pragmatics. Euphemism as a lingua-cultural phenomenon is of particular interest because the formation of euphemisms is occurring with increasing intensity in recent decades, and they are widely used in various fields of speech activity.
At present, people deal with the general use decline in the media (especially in the yellow press), which naturally reflects the everyday language of a society. The only natural way to combat this trend may be a conscious departure from the sharp emotional evaluations and replacing them with neutral ones. Therefore, the designation of negatively evaluated events or concepts related to themes difficult to discuss often uses more common name, as well as designs, relaxed imaginative words reinterpretation and turnovers, etc instead of direct, immediate items. In ancient rhetoric, mitigating names were referred to as euphemisms. Their function is to neutralize the true meaning of straight titles, softening them by being streamlined in verbal forms. This camouflage does not hide the true meaning. New names are seen clearly, but the form of vestment meaning becomes correct and more acceptable psychologically.
Euphemism phenomenon is studied from several aspects in linguistic literature. They are as follows:
- sociolinguistic (taboo conceptual uses);
- functional (euphemism motives);
- grammatical and semantic (structure and ways of euphemisms), etc. (Akmajian, 1997).
Many aspects of euphemisms remain debatable. Thus, motives of euphemisms are differently defined and classified; there are also different ways of grading the formation of euphemisms; there is no consensus about the place of euphemisms among the related linguistic phenomena. According to different scholars, political speech and language of media presently have a rule-making significance that creates stereotypes in public verbal behavior. Political language is the language of texts relating to political communication, actively studied in terms of its ability to influence a public opinion. Currently, language policy is also actively studied from various aspects. The existence of a special group of euphemisms used in the texts of political communication is noted by many linguists who studied the problem of euphemisms. The term political euphemism refers to this group of euphemisms.
Euphemism is a heterogeneous structure which is highly significant in the logical system of linguistic phenomena. Euphemism is not only an implicit expression of a negative evaluation, but also an element of language structure that plays an important role in historical development of a language. Euphemization is a continuous process of replacing one item with another item, based on an ongoing assessment and reassessment of expression that comes from a desire for successful communication.
Despite the relatively large number of works that refer to a phenomenon of euphemization, scientific literature lacks a common understanding of the phenomenon. The dynamic and multifaceted nature of euphemisms has caused a wide variety of lexical and grammatical forms of emotional neutrality. Consequently, euphemisms pose a problem of definition since they present certain difficulties for researchers. Thus, euphemisms are emotionally neutral words or expressions used in the place of synonymous words and phrases that seem to sound obscene, rude or impolite. Euphemisms are used to replace taboo names or archaic phrases. Euphemisms are understood as occasional individual and contextual replacing of some other words aiming at distortion or masking the true essence of the concept.
Another scientist, Rosenthal D., gives a similar interpretation of euphemistically colored words calling this process “a softening indication of any object or phenomenon; a softer expression instead of a rude one”. Euphemisms contribute to mitigating the effect of indirect substitution of wrong, shameful or odious names, brought to life on moral or religious grounds. Thus, a definition that reflects the content of all euphemisms definitions given above can be formulated as follows: euphemism is a replacement of any unauthorized or unwanted word or expression with another one in order to avoid direct naming of everything that can cause negative feelings as well as to conceal certain facts of reality.
Summarizing all the above, it can concluded that euphemism performs three functions. It conceals the actual rough and unpleasant meaning of words. The use of euphemisms depends on the context and situation. Euphemisms mask reality. Thus, a speaker selects such words and expressions which not only substitute certain unacceptable words or phrases, but render a cloaked, veiled essence of the phenomenon. Speaking of newspaper and journalistic style, it should be noted that the main role of euphemistic vocabulary in such texts is not masking reality, but manipulating mass audience.
The views of researches on linguistic tools and methods show certain discrepancies. However, it should be noted that they complement each other rather than contradict. Among the most commonly used tools of euphemization the following can be mentioned:
- word determinants of diffuse semantics, e.g. some, well-known, defined, appropriate, proper, etc.;
- common nouns used for naming of specific objects and actions, e.g. action, product, object, material, signal etc.;
- unknown or demonstrative pronouns, and pronoun phrases, e.g. left, one seat.
- Foreign words and terms that are used as symbols are more suitable for veiling essence of a phenomenon than primordial vocabulary of a language due to their lower understandability.
- Words denoting a low degree of a certain quality are used as euphemisms.
- Some verb forms with the prefix under- are considered to be more polite, mitigating the direct meaning of a word and therefore they are used as a euphemistic substitute of direct designations.
- Abbreviations, e.g. TBC instead of tuberculosis.
There are other ways of euphemism linguistic expression:
- analogical nomination;
- metaphorical nomination;
- usage of synecdoche paronymic replacement;
- usage of literary terms and expressions;
- usage of foreign words;
- antonomasia, e.g. using Aesculapius to refer to a doctor);
Thus, speaking about contemporary processes that occur in a language, it can be concluded that currently there are two tendencies in language: euphemization and dysphemization. Euphemism is a neutral word or expression that replaces any unauthorized or obscene one in order to avoid direct naming of anything that can cause negative feelings or in order to conceal certain facts of reality.