The Saturday Writing Quote — on euphemisms

There’s a passage in the semi-autobi0graphical novel, set mainly in the 1930s, A Bird in the House (1970) by the Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence that always makes me smile. Young Vanessa refers to a friend’s family as “broke.” Her grandmother, who lives with Vanessa and her parents, chides her. “Vanessa, don’t use slang. If you mean they’re hard up, say they’re hard up.”

Here’s a more academic take on my smile:

“This is the usual destiny of euphemisms; in order to avoid the real name of what is thought indecent or improper people use some innocent word. But when that becomes habitual in this sense it becomes just as objectionable as the word it has ousted and now is rejected in its turn.” Otto Jespersen, Growth and Structure of the English Language 258 (9th ed. 1938).

(Quote via Garner’s Modern American Usage daily blog.)