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Euphemism and Slang; The Words with Sneaky Meanings

Remember the time somebody said something you thought was a compliment, so you went home feeling happy, and started watching TV, but then randomly realized that what they said was unkind?

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We’ve all been there! Trust me, even as a professional translator, I’ve had a few of these “Aha!” moments myself. But how do those misunderstandings happen?

In my last blog post (Language Translation: Amidst a language evolution), I wrote about the fluidity of language translation, more specifically, how cultures borrow words from other languages into their own. This blog post, however, is about how words or sentences of the same language but has two distinct interpretations and why this happens.

Words with double meanings have existed for centuries. Today, we call these types of expressions Euphemisms, which refers to the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant. The word itself comes from the Greek word euphèmismos which is derived from the adjective euphèmos, meaning “of good omen” (from eu, “good,” and phèmi, “I say”). The second part is phēmos, a Greek word for "speech (Merriam-webster.com).

Euphemisms can take many different forms and are used when an individual wants to avoid expressing something that may come across as offensive or unpleasant. For instance, in America, when a person dies, we’ll water down the idea of death and the unpleasant feelings it may cause by saying something like “our friend passed away, or “he crossed over to the other side.” Another example can be drawn from the Soviets during the Great Purge in 1936 -- they called the death penalty Imprisonment without the right to Correspondence.

The examples are endless, and this way of informally speaking is more common than you think! Slang, for instance, is just another type of everyday language that is very informal and more common in speech than in writing. For example, the next time you hear someone say to you, “you’re acting thirsty,” you might want to want to ask an interpreter fluent in slang to translate the meaning because they’re probably not offering you a cup of water! Sometimes this phrase means that you’re acting desperate for attention. Or, if you hear “this is Lit,” don’t worry, nothing’s on fire, but what they most likely mean is they’re having a good time!

Written by:

Alexander Jimenez

Fruitful Thoughts

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