Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Value of Euphemisms

"Dog Bite It!"
That was something my grandmother used to say when she was mildly vexed. It came up mostly in circumstances where I had skinned my knee, bumped my head, etc,

I have a very dim memory of hearing that as well, on occasions calling for an expression of dismay. Maybe it wasn't her saying it. Maybe  it was coming from the radio. Don't recall it that clearly.

"Muscle Shoals!"
That came from my grandfather, on occasions when 'neither "Dog Bite It" nor "Je-HOS-a-phat!" would work. I don't remember the particulars behind this utterance, but when I asked my grandmother about it, she said that there had been a big dam in Muscle Shoals. So, when circumstances arose that he wished to express his displeasure about, instead of saying, you know,  he determined to limit himself to 'Muscle Shoals."


This is an expletive that I shared with my dear friend and co-counselor, Mrs. Catherine Reese Holman, when we encountered the worst situations of grief. As long-service middle school counselors, we spent a LOT of time working with students and families in some truly wretched circumstances. A tabby cat is  a Domestic Short Hair; the acronym is DSH, which also happens to be the acronym for three rude and crude words one hears from those suffering from a lack of vocabulary appropriate for the situation. Miz Catherine was Raised Right, a term perhaps not familiar to people outside the South; among other things, it means you don't use the lips you kiss your mama with, to spew vulgarity.
However, there were times when we were leaving a funeral service, or the house of a good and kind family struck by a fatal illness, or any one of a hundred things that will break the heart of anyone with a lick of compassion, and we NEEDED to have some mechanism to express our anger, grief, and helplessness. And it was on those occasions that we called on the Domestic Short Hair to rescue us: "TABBY!" It helped, a little.

There are a LOT of euphemisms being tossed around today, and I can tell from context that they give no relief at all to the user. They are tossed into conversation the way you toss salt on your grits, automatically, but with far less satisfaction at the result. You have some words which were initially meant to represent potty words; those I don't usually notice. The class I really find myself wincing at are the words used as substitutes for references to the Almighty. Unfortunately, except for geezers like myself, nobody appears to know that "Jeez!" is a euphemism for "Jesus"; that "Gee!" in all it's variations is a substitute for "God"; that "Dang" and "Darn" mean "Damn;" that "Heck" means "Hell." I suppose they have little incentive to learn the origin of the terms, since it's commonplace to find the original word in regular language, and even then, there is no importance attached to them. They have become sounds utterly devoid of content.

Well, I will only do what I can do. I'm going to trot out my creativity, and dig up some phrases I used  way back when, and perhaps I will inspire my children and grandchildren to use words like Papa does:

I hope to kiss a duck!
Shoot me with a washtub!
Turn blue and wear a purple hat!
Dog livers!

Peace be on your household.

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