Thursday, 8 November 2007


Every week I receive a newsletter from World Wide Words, an interesting site if you enjoy words and language. This week there was a section about two new books on euphemisms which says

You might think of them as oil in the wheels of society, allowing us to discuss, using circumlocutions, matters that are too hurtful or shaming to be spoken of directly and which often replace a negative concept with a positive one. Others regard them as genteelisms that cloak our thoughts as well as our speech.

As some of you may know my mother has cancer. It is in fact bowel cancer and that is causing some interesting moments because my mother can’t bring herself to say bowel, let alone mention any bodily functions. I can’t imagine how she communicates with her doctor, with oblique references to “well, you know”. I let her go her own sweet way without troubling her sensibilities but my sister, at a safe distance of several thousand miles, confronts her head on with direct questions.

In this case I believe that I am experiencing the second of the suggestions – cloaking our thoughts as well as our speech. Her doctor and the nurses seem to find it impossible to tell me what is going on or what to expect. We have all been dancing around avoiding every possible fact.

It was a great relief to talk, eventually, to the surgeon whose call I was expecting during the so-called training session last week. He at least was able to tell me what I needed to know perfectly directly, as I expected he would. No holds barred there, but he is my hero-who-can-do-no-wrong of the moment.


  1. Oh, I am ss glad you have had that talk with the surgeon. In my experience (and certainly when anything happens to me or my family) I think it is easier to cope with honestly expressed bad news than circumlocutions which only leave you feeling full of dread.

  2. I like to call things by their names... glad you had that talk with the surgeon! and thanks for the link :)

  3. Thanks Elaine, yes I'm glad I spoke to him too. I felt a bit awkward as it's years since I worked in his department, and not even for him directly, but it was worth it, and he was great.

    Glad you liked the links mar :)


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