Before we talk about euphemisms, we must explain what taboo words mean. These kind of words refer to topics that are unpleasant for a culture, topics that are considered unpolite or bad taste if they are mentioned in a conversation.
The taboo words often refer to religion, sex, scatological, death or illness. Breaking a taboo is seen as an unforgiveable behaviour by the society or culture that imposes it.
As already mentioned above, the taboo words are different in each culture. In Spanish, some examples are: 'criada' (maid), 'viejo' (old), ‘diablo’ (devil) ... In othe ultures ‘sangre’ (blood) is also a taboo because of the religion.
As this type of words may be offensive to certain communities, euphemisms appear as words or phrases that speakers use to replace the taboos.
According to the RAE (Spanish Royal Academy of Language), it has to do with "gentle and decent manifestations of ideas whose bare utterance would be coarse or outrageous.”
The word ‘euphemism’ comes from the Greek word ‘euphemo’, which means "auspicious / good / fortunate speech" . The word 'euphemo' derives from the Greek roots eu (εὗ), "good / well" + pheme (φήμί) "speech/speak". Eupheme was originally a word or phrase used in place of a religious word or phrase that should not be uttered out; etymologically, it is the opposite of ‘blasphemy’ (devillike speech).
Euphemisms are widely used in every society. Here are some examples used in Spain.
|Empleada del hogar (Housekeeper)||Sirvienta, criada (servant, maid)|
|Anciano, de la tercera edad (elder, senior,elderly)||Viejo (old)|
|Hombre de color (coloured man)||Negro (black man)|
|Sin techo (homeless)||Vagabundo (tramp)|
|Necesitado (needed)||Pobre (poor)|
|País del tercer mundo (Third World country)||País subdesarrolado ( underdeveloped country)|
|Paciente (patient)||Enfermo (sick)|
|Grande, pesado, rellenito (large, strong one, heavy)||Gordo (fat)|
|Institución correccional (correctional institution)||Prisión (prison)|
|Cuota (fee)||Multa (penalty)|
|Pasado de copas, tomado (drinkin past, taken)||Borracho o alcohólico (drunk or alcoholic)|
|Perder la vida, pasar a mejor vidalose one's life)||Morir (die)|
|Inodoro (rest room)||Retrete, water (loo, john, toilet)|
|Invidente (sightless)||Ciego (blind)|
|Discapacitado (disabled)||Minusválido, Disminuido (handicapped, invalid)|
Even though euphemisms have been created to describe people, actions or objects without hurting anyone’s feelings, sometimes the creation of such words/phrases is likely to cause misunderstandings between speakers. It often happens that certain terms are created only to get abandoned after a period of time and replaced with those previously regarded as taboo.
A good illustration is the 'ciego' (blind), who had to be referred to as invidente (sightless) and then blind people themselves seemed to prefer the term ciego, or take black Americans: first they were simply ‘negros’ (blacks), then they became 'gente de color' (colored people) or 'morenitos' (darkies), later ‘Afro-Americanos’ and other words, to return to the original 'negro' (black), and still avoiding the most offensive word 'negrata' which is accepted among members of those ethnic group.