Watch What You Write: This page is devoted to defending the English language and encouraging disciplined writing. Our regular contributor will be Adrianne LeMan who will seize on sloppy writing and firmly remind us of the need to write correctly. However, we welcome other contributors. Just send your piece or any comments on what we have published to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “euphemism” as, “A figure [of speech] by which a less distasteful word or expression is substituted for one more exactly descriptive of what is intended” and, guess what, they join the long list of things that raise my blood pressure.
The Economist Style Guide, with which I invariably agree, says that they should be avoided where possible. While it agrees that good writers should avoid giving offence, it also says, “a good writer owes something to plain speech, the English language and the truth, as well as to good manners”.
Euphemisms, which are invariably longer than the original meaning, take up valuable space; they are not only less precise, they are also less concise.
There are three euphemisms that I find particularly annoying, probably because they are used far too often:
“passed on” (or, worse, “gone to a better place”) instead of “died” – unless you are truly religious you can’t believe anyone has passed on to anywhere;
“in harm’s way” instead of “in danger” – pointless;
“loved ones” instead of “family” or “people you love” – OK, that’s longer, but it’s less mawkish.
Please, people, let’s say what we mean!
Adrianne LeMan ran a UK company for many years with a team that wrote and edited annual reports, websites, brochures, etc, for a wide range of major companies. She now works as a freelance writer/editor – again assisting major companies. She is interested in words: their use, and misuse, the way they are spelled and the way they look. Adrianne also keeps a close eye on the use, and misuse, of language, which she feels should be clear and to the point.