euphemism ‘replacement expression’

In preparing yesterday’s posting “Garment vocabulary”, on the purported Victorian tabooing of the word trousers, I looked at the actual tabooing of the word breast (because of sociocultural anxiety over the female bodypart), even in reference to a type of chicken meat (from the breast of the bird), and found a small number of euphemisms for the female bodypart: bosom, bust (and for some people, also chest). Not a big haul, so I thought to do a search on “euphemism for breast” — and found long lists of vulgarities (mostly used by men), nothing like my idea of a euphemism, and nothing like the definition of euphemism in standard dictionaries.

From NOAD:

noun euphemism: a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing: “downsizing” as a euphemism for cuts.

Some common expressions are seen (by some people) as offensive, disrespectful, or hurtful, so we seek to avoid them by using replacements for them, rough synonyms that are in fact softenings (not themselves offensive, disrespectful, or hurtful).

But then we have things like the Scott’s Brain Meat site posting “101 Euphemisms for Breasts” from 4/18/08, with the intro:

Everybody has heard them at one time or another, and almost everybody has used them once or twice during their more vulgar moods. They can be heard in bars, locker rooms, construction sites, and senate conference rooms at almost any time of the day. Some may even remember using them in grammar school, when the true nature of the subject mater was both frustratingly elusive and tantalizingly forbidden.

They are the slang phrases and words used by men to refer to women’s breasts, most often shared when bringing a pair of them to the attention of another masculine entity.

Example: “Hey, look at the set of *insert tasteless euphemism here* on that babe over there!”

Things like hooters, jugs, melons, etc. (plus a great many inventions).

Similarly, on Weckyboy’s Weblog in “101 Euphemisms for Breast” from 3/23/11, a list that starts with boobs and knockers and goes on from there.

These expressions popularly labeled euphemisms are indeed replacements for socioculturally problematic expressions, but are in fact generally coarsenings, not softenings.

As it happens, I’ve posted, once, about this phenomenon. From my 4/28/11 posting “Euphemisms?”:

When I collected the remarkable “Royal wedding porn sale” offer on [gay porn maker] Michael Lucas’s blog, I came across a poll there, asking “What is your favorite euphemism for penis?” (poll announcement here, actual poll here; note that both sites are X-rated).

From the actual poll, it seems that some people take euphemism for to mean ‘word for’ (well, ‘expression for’), taking in a number of things that aren’t euphemisms as I understand them [man-meat and fuck stick, for example] (and treating euphemism for as a relationship between an expression and a thing — “euphemism for (the) penis” — rather than, as I see it, a relationship between expressions — “euphemism for penis“).

I’m guessing that as a term for the general case, replacement seems too bland to most people; and synonym too schoolmarmish (though there are such uses of synonym); but euphemism has the wonderful whiff of an arcane technical term, so it’s become fashionable.

2 Responses to “euphemism ‘replacement expression’”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    I don’t suppose there’s any chance of getting acceptance for a coinage such as cacophonism.

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