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Political Euphemisms as a Control Instrument Essay

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Updated: Jun 11th, 2020

The language as an intervention approach is imperative for people to comprehend temperament of political euphemisms. Usually, euphemisms originate from modernist beliefs, dissent power, and decorum. Individuals who want talk about things without raising a mental picture of the subject use political euphemisms. Notably, the purpose of euphemisms is to strike the imagination of an individual by creating an incomplete picture of the event, the object or the subject in the mind. In effect, individuals cannot understand the real meaning of a statement because the definition laid out through euphemisms is incomprehensible. Currently, political euphemism endeavors to transform unaccepted dark ideas and arguments into useful catchphrases for media consumption. As such, politicians use euphemism to doublespeak, lie, pure wind, or cloudy vagueness to advance their interests. This essay paper discusses political euphemism in relation to the Wiley and Luke (1996) statement “language can be used as an instrument of political, social and economic control” (p. 512)

The use of one language is considered to enhance national unity and social mobility. In the US for instance, the language diversity is shaped by two dominant ideologies (Wiley & Luke, 1996). The first ideology is monolingual English ideology, which is manifested via rhetoric of English Only Movement. English as the standard language in the US is the second ideology (Wiley & Luke, 1996). As a symbol of symbol of unity and social mobility, politicians use English to advance their political euphemism by coining new phrases with hidden meaning.

In most world languages, euphemisms fulfill certain imperative roles such as protecting the speaker, appeasing the listeners, mobilizing groups towards certain beliefs or interests and advancing individual interests. Hojati (2012) believes that political euphemisms aim is to protect the speaker from arousing undesirable emotions among the public. In concepts that are too offensive to talk about, the speakers are obliged to find a roundabout, indirect and socially acceptable ways of addressing them. In this case, euphemisms camouflages and sanitizes actions, events and things that appear unacceptable via speaker’s common language (Hojati, 2012). It is not surprising that people use euphemism frequently in political communication appear insensible to destitute individuals and groups (Crespo-Fernández, 2014). Besides, euphemism neutralizes the negative implication associated with certain offenses. Thus, it advances conformity to current assumptions and beliefs in behavior and language with reference to policies such as ageism, racism, and sexism.

Numerous examples show the use of euphemism by politicians to advance their interests. For instance, David Cameroon advocates for “social welfare” and “the welfare state” (Poole, 2006). From a normal point of view, “the welfare state” means that government is responsible for all people’s wellbeing. However, Poole (2006) believes that the intention of Tories government is to delegate some of its duties of providing welfare to voluntary organizations. As such, using a friendly language of welfare, the government desires to limit its duties towards the less fortunate in the society.

The disputes in euphemisms that occur during power struggles relate to linguistic rectitude. In short, such disputes are common in situations characterized by accusations relating to political correctness. Valentine (1998) points out that “cases are examined where euphemisms are dispensable or too troublesome, and where conversely it becomes necessary to coin further cultivated euphemisms in an inflationary manner” (p. 1). In the 1970s, the debate on abortion is an example (Poole, 2006). Anti-abortionists initial position was to defend “right to life.” On the other hand, proponents of abortionists adopted the slogan of “pro-choice” to promote the autonomy of women. In effect, Anti-abortionists adopted a new slogan “pro-life.” It is quite notable that the anti-abortionist argument is that proponents of abortionists are “anti-life” (Poole, 2006). Similarly, the shift of language is notable in budgetary tax measures of George Bush’s administration. The GOP refers these tax measures as “tax relief” while Democrats call them “tax cuts” (Poole, 2006). In this case, GOP implies that taxes are a burden to the people to make the budgetary tax cuts more acceptable to the public.

The definition of power is distributed socially, whereby the mainstream power is orchestrated via expert categorizations of nonconformity, which belittles other individuals via euphemisms (Valentine, 1998). The catchphrase “ethnic cleansing” is an example of revolting euphemism with other implications. Notably, it tends to imply that there is pure ethnicity. As such, some ethnicities are impure or filth and therefore, “ethnic cleansing” can be justified through hygiene and moral perspective. “Ethnic cleansing” emerged in 1991 after Croatians blamed Serbs for deportation and mass killing (Poole, 2006). The acts of deportation and mass killing composed genocide. Since, no signatory party was willing to stop the genocide, “ethnic cleansing was adopted to portray the situation in Balkans as a lesser crime” (Poole, 2006). In effect, “ethnic cleansing” rhetoric made the world turn a blind eye on Balkans, Rwanda and Darfur. In this case, “ethnic cleansing” constitutes the genocides’ political euphemism.

Political aides of President Bush’s government created the 9/11 political euphemism. Mihas (2005) claims that the 9/11 “is an index, a minimal deictic, which refers to the terrorist attack on America on September 11, 2001, when the country lost nearly 3,000 people” (p. 131). The mastermind of the attack was Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida members. The 9/11 phrase is used to circumvent the awfulness and pain that people went through. In this case, the language power managed to reduce the inexpressible event into pronouncing and repeating the date, as a form of custom summons.

Iraq invasion demonstrates political euphemisms. Initially, the invasion was called, “a liberation,” and “a broad and concerted campaign” executed by “coalition of the willing.” Further, Mihas (2005) notes that Iraq invasion was referred to as “confronting dictators,” “regime change,” and “tearing down the apparatus of terror” as a way of justifying the act for grounds of humanitarianism (p. 131). The effect of the invasion is portrayed euphemistically in Republicans political narratives; for instance, Mr. Bush’s “catastrophic success” and “a seedbed of democracy,” and Mr. Cheney’s “remarkable success” (Mihas, 2005, p. 131). In spite of the Republicans narratives, Iraq is a hotbed of a terrorist threat.

In conclusion, politicians use euphemisms to avoid displeasing people and in particular, the most vulnerable individuals in the society such as disabled, homeless and ethnic minorities. Politicians have coined numerous catchphrases such as “social welfare,” “confronting dictators,” “9/11,” “pro-life,” “catastrophic success” and “tax relief” in order to advance their interests. Although such catchphrases seem straightforward in the eyes of the public in terms of the meaning, their embedded meaning is the opposite of what the speaker implies. In retrospect, a language is a major tool for controlling the understanding of the public in terms of political, social and economic perspectives.


Crespo-Fernández, E. (2014). Euphemism and political discourse in the British regional press. Brno Studies in English, 40(1), 5-26.

Hojati, A. (2012). A study of euphemisms in the context of English-speaking media. International Journal of Linguistics, 4(4), 552-562.

Mihas, E. (2005). Non-literal language in political discourse. LSO Working Papers in Linguistics 5: Proceedings of WIGL 2005, 124-139.

Poole, S. (2006). NewStateman. Web.

Valentine, J. (1998) . Sociological Research Online, 3, 1-23. Web.

Wiley T. G. & Lukes, M. (1996, Autumn). English-only and standard English ideologies in the U.S. TESOL Quarterly, 30(3), 511-535.

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