Sunday, September 6, 2009

Euphemisms are Anti-Magic Words

Our use of euphemisms is proof of a deep-seated belief in the magic of words. Steven Pinker explains:

"Taboo speech is part of a larger phenomenon known as word magic. Though one of the foundations of linguistics is that the pairing between a sound and a meaning is arbitrary, most humans intuitively believe otherwise. They treat the name for an entity as part of its essence, so that the mere act of uttering a name is seen as a way to impinge on its referent. Incantations, spells, prayers, and curses are ways that people try to affect the world through words, and taboos and euphemisms are ways that people try not to affect it." (The Stuff of Thought, p. 331)

1 comment:

Gordon said...

I love this observation! Thanks for posting it.