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■Soft Words

J - Janice, R - Rei

A GV and a learner talk about euphemisms.

R: How do you talk about sensitive topics in English?

J: Sensitive topics? Like what?

R: Like the subject of death or dying. How do you bring it up

    in a tactful way?

J: Oh, I see. Well...if someone died, you can also say they

    passed away.

R: Really? Hmm, that does sound better…Alright.

    What about if someone loses their job?

J: Well, you can say that they were let go or that they had

     a career transition.

R: Okay, I think those expressions are quite useful.

J: These expressions are called euphemisms. They try to make

    heavy topics less uncomfortable for people. But not all of them

    are polite.

R: Really? Even regarding very delicate matters?

J: Yes. For example, ‘kicking the bucket’ and ‘biting the dust’ are

    also euphemisms for death. But you shouldn’t say that to someone

    whose relatives died recently. It would be very rude.

R: Yeah, those sound very inappropriate. But why do people use

    them, then?

J: Maybe to make light of otherwise heavy topics. Some people use

    humor to cope with sad events.

R: To each their own. Personally, I would never use those.

J: Well, euphemisms are not limited to sensitive topics. There are some

    expressions for embarrassing situations, too. For example, breaking

    wind means to...uh ... release gas from the nether regions of your body.

R: ...That entire sentence sounds like a euphemism. I don’t really understand...

J: Alright, then. It means to fart.

R: Ah, I see. (long pause) Well, it’s a normal bodily function. It’s nothing

    to be ashamed of.

An even longer pause.

J: And that’s why we need euphemisms. ‘Breaking wind’ sounds a lot less

    awkward than ‘farting,’ doesn’t it?