Yesterday, I heard a woman on CNN promoting women’s health care. As she continued speaking, I realized she was talking about the importance of assuring that birth control and abortion would always be made available to women. Wow! I thought. She has remarkably neutralized the issues of abortion and birth control (hot button ‘words’) simply by re-naming, or re-wording them as “women’s health care.” It is indeed a unique use of what-we-call ‘euphemism.’
A euphemism is a word or phrase which is used in order to make something that may have a bad connotation sound better. For example, our military invasion of Iraq was called a “peace effort.” Pornography is called “adult entertainment.” An unemployed person is “between jobs.” A public bathroom is a “restroom.” When a lady uses the toilet, she is “powdering her nose.” Used cars are “pre-owned.” A prison is a “correctional facility.”
This issue of “re-naming” was first brought to my attention with the California debate over gay marriage. Conservatives framed it as a moral issue. But when gay activists were successful in reframing it as one of civil rights, i.e., "Gay Rights," I knew they would eventually prevail. A euphemism may simply be polite speech, but it can also be a powerful tool to influence attitudes and values. Whoever controls the meaning of words can can control the people who use them.