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Writer's Corner

Euphemisms

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This subject is rarely covered in any publication but it’s so important it deserves to be high on everybody’s list.

 

The subject is euphemisms and they drive me batty. Anyone want to join my chapter of the Flat Earth Society?

 

But euphemisms are important, especially when considering things to avoid and especially to writers who are being taught things to avoid.

 

How many times have you written that someone was lying prone on the sand or bed or somewhere? Unless that person is lying face down, that sentence would be a big no-no. Prone means to lie face down. Supine is the word for face up and probably the position you mean.

 

This is quite personal but I detest the word “passed” or “passed away” for "died.” Some newspapers now have begun to use that expression in obituaries but good journalism teaches that euphemisms are another big no-no.

 

Even famous authors are guilty of misuse of words. In The Second Chair, John T. Lescroart wrote about an assault that was the “penultimate escalation in a pattern of violence,” having begun with the murder of a pawnshop owner. He was saying the assault was the next to last in the pattern of violence but I’d bet he meant to say it was the ultimate event, since penultimate means next to last. Beats me why he had to go and spoil a good story with such shady a word.

 

I find such misuses constantly. Now I have come to a new conclusion: most authors are only mediocre but their marketing departments make them all their money!

 

Recently I ran across an admonition for writers to be careful of their use of the word TiVo. “It is not a verb,” went the article (darned if I can remember where I read it, a no-no for a writer). In addition, it is not a noun. Makers of the device, which functions as a TV and VCR in one, with some dandy features in addition, is worried that the word is sliding into the public domain (like Kleenex and Styrofoam). They are serving notice that "TiVo" is a proper adjective...

 

Another personal dislike: using the word impact when you mean affect. “Her tardiness impacted my whole day!”

 

A famous editor, I am told (it’s said his name is William Allen White), headed his writing advice with this admonition: “Never use the word ‘very.’ Substitute the word ‘damn.’ The editor will cross out ‘damn’ as inappropriate and the sentence will then be improved.”

 

Along the same lines: authors whose editors don’t do their jobs and allow them to use the wrong word. In Sue Grafton’s “S Is For Silence,” I found these: page 197, “He knew his feeling was commiserate with his joy…” and page 171, “I was assaulted by the noise…and the air of comradery suggested the gatherine was a daily occurrence.”

 

Geesh! I can't stand it. We’ll leave that discussion for another day.

 

(NCWritertoo is a retired journalist who worked as a writer for over 25 years. Email her at ncwritertoo@yahoo.com)