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taboo and euphemism

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Maria Schön

on 14 April 2015

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Transcript of taboo and euphemism

Group Presentation
Definitions of taboo
‘Taboo is the prohibition or avoidance in any society of behaviour believed to be harmful to its members in that it would cause them anxiety, embarrassment or shame’ (Wardhaugh, 2000).

Definitions of taboo
‘Taboo also (tabu) is a social or religious custom prohibiting or restricting a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person place or thing’ (Gao, 2013).

Definitions of taboo
'A taboo is a ban or inhibition resulting from social custom or aversion’ (Jay, 2009).

Definitions of taboo
Taboo definitions are similar in most cultures an avoidance of certain subjects that cause embarrassment in that particular culture.

Definitions of taboo
Where did taboo language come from
What subjects are considered taboo
How to avoid taboo

taboo and euphemism

Where did taboo language come from
Comes from ‘Tongan, a language spoken by Polynesians
In the ‘Pacific archipelago’(Gao, 2013).
Leech has looked at how “tabu” has Kiriwinan meaning (‘tubu meaning kinsman two generations removed from ego’) to ascertain if it is similar to the Polynesian meaning (Chowning, 1970).
Where did taboo language come from
American and English cultures have
avoided taboo and this has become a
‘symbol of their civilization’ (Gao, 2013).
Leech was satisfied that Kiriwinan word
was opposite to the Polynesian usage ‘holy and untouchable’ (Chowning, 1970).

Taboo subjects / How we avoid taboo
Taboo Subjects
Body parts
Racial insults

‘Taboo words represent a
class of emotionally arousing
references’ (Jay, 1992, 2000)

Euphemism is ‘inoffensive
positive word or phrase
designed to avoid a harsh,
unpleasant, or distasteful reality’
Euphemisms are used to
describe these taboo subjects
Avoiding Taboo

Julia Droney
Pamela Madigan
Deirdre Doherty
Ashlee DeCosta
Maria Schön

English Taboos and Euphemisms
Taboos surrounding subjects such as
sex, bodily functions, death and disease.

The euphemisms we use for these
taboo subjects.

Taboos and Euphemisms in the past.


To die
If I die…
Mental illnesses

‘If anything should
happen to me…’
To pass away
To kick the bucket
Going to a better place
To depart
Terminally ill
‘not all there’


Sleeping with
Go all the way
‘batting for the other side’
Bun in the oven
Knocked up

Bodily Functions
To go to the toilet

Time of the month
‘A visit from mother nature’
Do one’s needs
‘Powder my nose’

Taboos and Euphemisms in the past
Taboos and Euphemisms in the past
'Going to bed’ was inelegant, use ‘retire’
Swear words e.g. ‘fuck’ were taboo in the
Controversy over unabridged edition of
D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover
The number of sexual taboos and euphemisms
are greater than any other.
Large number of words in the English language
relating to genitalia and intercourse.
In the English language there are approximately
1,200 words for ‘vagina’, 1,000 for ‘penis’, 800 for ‘intercourse’ and 2,000 for ‘whore’.
Shakespeare used synonyms in his plays
45 for ‘penis’, 68 for ‘vagina’ and 275 for

(Linfoot-Ham 2005)

Euphemism is, as described by the
Oxford English Dictionary “A mild or
indirect word or expression substituted
for one considered to be too harsh or
blunt when referring to something
unpleasant or embarrassing”

It is believed that the euphemisms we
choose to use are “products of societal
mores and pressures”(Linfoot-Ham, 227)

The need to use them is both social and

They "are embedded so deeply in
our language that few of us, even
those who pride themselves on
being plainspoken, ever get through
a day without using them,"
Functions of Euphemism
The need for euphemism springs from the
formation of taboo topics.
The Euphemism exists to “Protect the
speaker/writer/hearer/reader or all of the above
from possible effrontery and offence”(Linfoot-Ham, 228)
It is also clear that the “size of the euphemism collection indicates the size of the taboo” (Linfoot-Ham,229)

Warren's Model of Euphemism
Now we will look objectively at the work of Beatrice Warren who studied specific models of Euphemism.
Warren’s study is based on the idea that new meanings for words in a particular context are “constantly created in language” (Linfoot-Ham,230)
She gives four devices for euphemism formation.

I. Word Device Formation
This evolves the combining
of two individually innocuous words to form a
euphemism from an otherwise inacceptable
term, i.e. ‘Hand Job’ (Linfoot-Ham,230)

The modification of a Latin word
to form a printable modern English word
(Rawson, 1981)

I. Word Device Formation


Warren gives no example of
what or how this euphemism is formed.

4. Acronyms:
SNAFU, a military euphemism
for a possibly chaotic event(Linfoot-Ham,231)

5. Onomatopoeia:
for example ‘bang’ which
illustrates the sound of goings on during a
sexual act.
II. Phonemic Modification
“The form of an offensive word is modified
or altered” (Warren,133)
1. Back slang:
enob(boner), epar(rape)(Rawson,88)

2. Rhyming slang:
‘Bristols’ stand for ‘Breasts’ (Burchfield,19)
3. Phonemic Replacement:
one sound of the offensive term is replaced i.e. ‘shoot’ as opposed to ‘shit’

4. Abbreviation:
‘eff off’ as opposed to ‘fuck off’ (Linfoot-Ham, 231)

III. Loan Words
Words are taken from other languages
and used in a euphemistic light for example,
the French word ‘affair(e)’ for adultery and ‘lingerie’ for underwear. (Linfoot-Ham, 231).

There are also words taken from the Spanish language like ‘cojones’ which refers to ‘testicles’(Nash, 1995)

IV. Semantic Innovation
This refers to “a novel sense for some
established word or word combination is created” (Warren, 133)

There are seven different categories
which Warren refers to, these include:

Particularisations, Implication, Metaphor, Metonym, Reversal or ‘irony’, Understatement and Overstatement.

Taboos and Euphemisms in Spain
Although the Spanish are usually open and tolerant, there are some issues that are best avoided in casual conversation.
These issues are:
The Franco Regime
Partisan politics
Conflicts between regions of Spain (Basque Country, Catalonia and Gibraltar)
Machismo and feminism
© 2014 Passport to Trade 2.0
Taboos and Euphemisms in Spain

Ciego (blind) "Va to' ciego"= He's
very blind
"No ve tres en un burro" = He
doesn't see three people on
a donkey
"Empinar el codo" = to raise the elbow
Achispado = tipsy
Contento = happy
Taboo and Euphemism in Spain
Bodily functions
Orinar = urinate
Mear = piss
Cagar = defecate
Menstruación =
Hacer pis /pipí = do wee/pee
Plantar un pino = to plant a pine tree
Ir al trono = to go to the throne
Mi prima la roja =
My red cousin
Taboo and Euphemism in Spain
Palmar = pop off
Morir = to die
Estirar la pata = kick the
Pasar a mejor vida = pass away
Taboo and Euphemism in Spain
Copular =copulate
Fornicar = fornicate
Follar = fuck
Acostarse con alguien = sleep with
Tener relaciones = to have relations
Taboo and Euphemism in Spain
Sex: youth language
Mojar el churro = to dip the fritter
Echar un pinchito = to "make" a little brochette
Echar un polvo = to "cast" a dust
Taboo and Euphemism in Spain
In Spanish, unlike English, saying any word related to Christianity such as God, Christ, etc. is not taboo if it's not followed by a real taboo word or a swear word.
Normal use of religious words:
"Dios" which can be used as an expression = "¡Dios! ¡Qué morena estás!"
Wow! You look tanned!
Taboo and Euphemism in Spain
"La hostia" can also be used as an expression (stronger though) which would mean impression in the speaker.
"¡La hostia! ¡Qué bueno está esto!" = Wafer! This is so delicious!
"Hostia" can also mean "punch".
"Te voy a meter una hostia que vas a flipar" =
I'm going to give you a wafer that you're going to freak out.
Survey results
Survey results
Survey results
Survey results
Survey results
Survey results
Chowning, A. (1970) ‘Taboo’ Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland [online], 5(2), 309-310, available: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2799657 [Accessed 1 April 2015].

Jay, T. (2009) ‘The Utility and Ubiquity of Taboo Words’ Perspectives on Psychological Science [online], 4(2), 153-161 available: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40212309 [Accessed 1 April 2015].

Lutz, W. (2000) ‘Nothing in life is certain except negative patient care outcome and revenue enhancement’ Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy [online], 44(3), 230-233, available: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40012181 [Accessed 15 March 2015].

Gao, C. (2013) ‘A sociolinguistic study of English taboo language’ Theory and Practice in Language Studies [online],3(12), 2310-2314, available: doi: 10.4304/tpls.3.12.2310-2314 [Accessed 15 March 2015].
Pictures Google images

Gao, C. (2013). ‘A Sociolinguistic Study of English Taboo Language’. TPLS, 3(12), 2310-2314.

Linfoot-Ham, K. (2005). ‘The Linguistics of Euphemism: A Diachronic Study of Euphemism Formation’, Journal of Language and Linguistics, 4(2), 227-263.

© 2014 Passport to Trade 2.0: 'Spain Business Culture': http://businessculture.org/southern-europe/business-culture-in-spain/ [Accessed on April 2nd 2015]

Taboos and euphemisms in the past
Victorian society was very conservative
in its language use.
During the 19th century the words ‘leg’
and ‘breast’ were taboo.
Replaced with ‘white meat’ and ‘dark meat’,
even when referring to chicken.
Full transcript