The Age of the Euphemism

41-cvVm25dL._SX328_BO1 204 203 200_Nicola here. I'm in my writing cave dealing with revisions to my latest manuscript, so today I have dusted down a Wench classic post from 7 years ago which provoked an interesting and fun discussion at the time and I hope will do the same now its been updated and expanded. The topic is "euphemisms" and the first line of this blog piece is of course a euphemism in itself. What I really mean is that I planned a new blog topic but ran out of time to write it. Euphemisms are "a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing." And we use them all the time: "Downsizing" for job cuts, "certified pre-owned" for a used item (or "pre-loved" for clothes), "friends with benefits," "creative with the truth," ladies' powder room" to quote just a few. There are endless ways of softening something that sounds too direct and the word euphemism itself originates from the Ancient Greek meaning "good speaking."

There are many euphemisms for things that are considered too personal to express directly. This is where this blog post 1200px-Set_of_fourteen_side_chairs_MET_DP110780 receives it's X rating as we plunge into topics that have been and may still be culturally taboo for some people. In both my mother's and grandmother's generation there were certain words that were simply not appropriate to use. My dearly-loved godmother, for example, completely confused me when she referred to her "sit upon." I thought she meant a piece of furniture rather than her bottom! But euphemisms enable people to speak about things they find uncomfortable. They are comfort words that help us broach difficult topics. It's worth bearing in mind though, that you can stumble into cultural quicksands with euphemisms very easily. The "fanny pack" is one example, and did you know that in Scotland a "peenie" is an apron so "get your peenie out" could be misconstrued? And whilst on that subject, the question "which way do you dress?" from a tailor to a client during a trouser fitting is a euphemism designed to save both from embarrassment but which could easily cause confusion.

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ReadModernLadyTableCityGIG Pat here:

I’m not entirely certain how the rest of the wenches find time to research and write their edifying blogs on fascinating subjects. When it comes my turn to blog, I’m usually musing on something much more pragmatic—like whether it’s better to leave off my glasses while doing housework.  I used to scrub the house every weekend, but now that I wear glasses, I don’t notice the grime on the kitchen cabinets or the dust on
Housekeeper the TV so there’s not as much to clean. It’s a miracle!

But it’s these little bits of reality that eventually get woven into the characters I write.  I make no pretense about it—I’m a character-driven writer.  Fitz (WICKED WYCKERLY) was chasing a six-year old shouting catchfart long before I researched the inns on the road to Brighton.  Blake (DEVILISH MONTAGUE) has been dueling in my head and Jocelyn stealing parrots before I knew where Wellington was in his battle against Napoleon that year. The characters and story almost always come before my research.
Wicked wyckerly final
That doesn’t mean I don’t research at all. If I am to have a character using a pen, I will most certainly determine the date and origin of the first inkpen—and that’s no simple matter since a fountain pen was designed in 1702, an American pen patent was filed in 1809, and a British one that was half quill in 1819, but it wasn’t until 1884 that Waterman produced a truly practical fountain pen.  While researching pens I might fall fascinated into quills and have a character produce odes to left wing feathers for their proper curve and crow feathers for their fine lines, cursing that the quills only last a week’s time. 

BUT, and I fear this is a very large exception—I will become so enamored of my character saying something like gobsmacked that it will never occur to me to check the origin of that word. Inventions, yes, words, no. Once upon a time I had copy editors familiar with Regency terms who might catch my idiosyncratic straying, but now copy editors rarely recognize when I turn a contemporary phrase into Regency language. I have no idea if Regency people ever used the phrase stubble it, (although I suspect Heyer did) but it works nicely when I really want to say stuff it. Nary an eyebrow has been raised over term or phrase.

I suspect part of my irrational use of both historical and contemporary language is generated because too many editors have questioned the real language of the period. Most Americans can’t pronounce marquess correctly, and editors have fits over gaol. If I give them sapscull, they’ll just change the spelling, so I do it for them.

But if I madly combine the real and the unreal, does it confuse the reader? Do you enjoy odes to quills or would you prefer that the heroine call the hero a sapskull and get on with the story?  And what character traits would you like to see portrayed in your favorite romance? Is near-sighted not romantic?