Euphemisms: The Politics of Words

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One of the first pieces of advice given to writers is to write from the heart, to write honestly. Most of us take it. Because it’s good advice. Honesty helps readers relate to the writer and to what is being written.

But, of course, just like anything else, words can be used to manipulate. Through the omission of facts, the selective use of facts, the use of emotive language and, perhaps the most insidious, through euphemisms.

According to the Macquarie Dictionary, a euphemism is “the substitution of a mild, indirect or vague expression for a harsh, blunt or offensive one”. Sometimes it’s to soften the blow as in the case of saying someone has passed away so that we don’t have to say that they died. More often these days, though, euphemisms are being used to protect the writer or speaker rather than the recipient of the words. Continue reading

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The Cultural and Historical Context of Words

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Last week, Senator Fraser Anning of Katter’s Australian Party gave his maiden speech in the Australian Senate. In it, he called for a ban on Muslim immigration and a return to the White Australia policy (actually a collection of policies barring people of non-European descent from migrating to the country – the policies were effectively dismantled between 1949 and 1973 and officially legislated against in 1975). That was bad enough in itself. But he then went on to say that the “final solution to the immigration problem” was a plebiscite, a non-binding and hugely expensive opinion poll of the entire Australian voting population.

The speech was widely condemned for its racist overtones and blatant lies but the two words that reviled people the most were “final solution”. I read an article about his speech only hours after he had given it and before the outcry began in earnest. As soon as I saw that he had used those specific words, I was shocked. I am by no means a Holocaust expert but even just from watching a couple of documentaries years ago, I knew that “final solution” was the euphemism used by the Nazis to that they didn’t have to call it “our plan to kill six million Jewish people”. Thus, those two words, as innocent as they are when used separately, become something to be avoided as a pair regardless of what they are being used to describe. Continue reading

Twitter Writing Wisdom

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Every time I sit down to write a blog post, I aim for approximately 1,000 words. But as I posted my most recent tweet (as of writing this), I realised that writing advice doesn’t always have to be quite so lengthy. Here’s a selection of my Twitter ramblings (right back to when I started tweeting at the end of 2012) to do with writing. Hope you get something out of it. (I got an entire blog post out of it!) Continue reading

A Guide to Writing Drunk

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“I was drinking a case of 16-ounce tallboys a night, and there’s one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all.”
On Writing, Stephen King

One of the persistent stereotypes about writers is their fraught relationship with alcohol. For some, it’s absolutely accurate. But for most of us who write, we know it isn’t true. While there may be plenty of creatives who struggle with sobriety, it’s no greater in percentage terms than members of the general public experience. Still, why let that get in the way of giving it go?

Stephen King is the cautionary tale but what he did was alcoholic writing. Drunk writing is less intense, less destructive to life in general and a much more rare occurrence. Continue reading

Book Review: The First Stone by Helen Garner

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Helen Garner could write a book about painting one wall of her living room and it would still be fascinating, that’s how good a writer she is. But having now read three of her books, I’m seeing a theme: she is baffled at why everybody doesn’t think like her and more baffled when people won’t take the time to try to convince her to think otherwise, then give her the opportunity to do the same.

The First Stone is creative non-fiction, meshing tales from Garner’s own personal life, particularly emphasising her and her friends’ experiences with feminism and unwanted male attention, with the story of two accusations of sexual harassment at the University of Melbourne by two students against the head of Ormond College, one of the residences. It comes to her attention when she reads about it on the front page of The Age newspaper, as the students have taken their complaint to the police after being unsatisfied with the university’s handling of the matter. Continue reading