Friday, December 12, 2014

We could be sleeping together

The following is a speech that I recently presented on a particular aspect of the use of language in fulfilling its purpose - the accurate transmittal of ideas or information. This speech is useful not only for the linguists and those who seek to improve their communication skills but, I feel, is necessary for parents, most particularly, those experiencing family discord or child custody litigation.

Today I am going to talk to you about something I have done with most friends, teammates and also strangers. I invite each of you to join me in doing this. Not only with your friends and acquaintance but with me.

So, who wants to sleep with me - male or female, I don’t care.

Sleeping together can be economical when sharing hotel rooms like my teammates and I did. It can help keep you warm during the frigid month of November. Sometimes it just happens when lounging around or partying together and everyone falls asleep in place.

I am guessing that your thoughts are now racing somewhere between wondering about my sexual orientation and if I am homeless. This may because I used the phrase “sleep with me” which is also a euphemism for sexual intercourse or sexual acts generally.

I pride myself in my ability to accurately make use of the English language. An area that has proved to be difficult for me both in implication and inference has been euphemisms. The literal interpretation can far miss the mark of the speaker’s intention. In preparing for this topic I learned that a “love child” is a child born out-of-wedlock. I always thought that was considered a bastard child and that a love child was a child conceived upon the intent of two people proving their love to each other. By inference married parents don’t love their children. Some ‘love children’ then I feel could be more accurately described as drunken bang children.

The topic of love provides an opening to this question - How is it that in euphemistic terms “sleep” can mean sexual intercourse - colourfully known as ‘making love’ - yet also death, as in ‘put to sleep’? Do you realize just how terrifying it can be for a sick, miserable suffering child to be given Ny-quil and told it will put him to sleep? When juxtaposed with the recent death of his cat - which was put to sleep at the animal medical care facility or the vet as is common nomenclature - it is cause for intense terror.

Semantically euphemisms are opaque. While they represent a regular part of English they are largely untaught. This is rather incongruous with the purpose of language as the untaught euphemisms hinders understanding for the listener. As a person who strives to be as honest and forthright as possible the very purpose of euphemisms -- to soften/hide the reality of what is communicated to a listener or reader or at times to exaggerate -- is confounding.

Some euphemisms have come into regular usage by providing more distinction or preciseness. These were once used to establish a genteel and an obscene vocabulary. Thus, a duchess perspired and expectorated and menstruated--while a kitchen maid sweated and spat and bled. We now know menstruation to be a particular form of bleeding.

Euphemisms are, to use one, a misrepresentation. More directly they are lies because they are deliberate. Thus, it is my intention to assist you in living a more healthful life by helping you be honest in your communications. Eliminating the use of euphemisms provides another step toward the goal of living honestly and improving outcomes.

Living, or rather the end of living, provides a plethora of euphemisms. The most absurd I find being “life insurance.” So-called life insurance does little if anything to enhance or extend life. Contrarily, I contend that it can hasten death. Psychologically we are programmed on an inert level to function with efficiency. Paying for something by putting forth effort and not getting a return is inapposite to efficiency. By living we are wasting our resources on life insurance. Additionally, as I was advised of in prison and fans of the show Forensic Files will know, you don’t want to be worth more dead than alive. It’s a death windfall policy.

In the military arena “air support” is the deceptive term applied to what is truthfully deployment of ordinates for indiscriminate destruction of property and deaths of people - bombings. Some wars are fought with the intention of eliminating the enemy. A most grotesque euphemism, which is usually trumpeted by the media, is “ethnic cleansing”. Only the most perverse of humans would equate the intent to kill off a race of people as purifying or freshening.

As you go about your life interacting and communicating with people around you consider whether you are going to be honest with them. . . and yourself. While you may think that euphemisms really do no harm consider the most absurd that I have ever heard. A little girl’s “treasure chest” may have a “magic wand” put in it. She may get a congratulatory affirmation or dismissive nod like ‘oh that’s great’ when confiding this to a teacher or other adult instead of the appropriate response to a man putting his penis in the child’s vagina.

Sometime abusive parents attempt to quell their dissonance through euphemisms. “Corporal punishment” is hitting children in retaliation for their disobedience. It does not appear on the continuum of discipline techniques. In other instances it may be an attempt to shield the child from something that parents are uncomfortable expressing such as matters related to the sole purpose of our existence -- reproduction. We live in a society of both males and females who sexualize children and have proclivities toward having sexual relations with them although few will readily admit such though clinical observation tell otherwise. Their reticence is displayed in the use of euphemisms to also quell the dissonance when adults use sexual terms and are confronted by the arousal generated when applied to the child and the internal shame that is felt for contravening law, moral or custom. Children have no intrinsic fear of death or abhorrence of their reproductive systems. They openly embrace knowledge of the concepts, purposes and application of the many aspects of their being including life and death.

Childrens minds have not fully developed the cognitive capacities to fully integrate euphemisms into the literal world. It is the adults experiencing cognitive dissonance that project their discomfort onto the children. The parents and other adults who express these deceptive utterances are conditioning children for communication difficulties and, as I expressed in the speech, the potential for great harm. Euphemisms and innuendo are both contributors to what I have found to be the most common factor and significant contributor to divorce and child custody litigation -- lack of purposeful, understandable, and precise speech. It is those deficits which inhibit communication as communication only exists when there is transmittal of thought and understanding of the expression. Otherwise such expressions are simply useless utterances.

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