By Phil Polizatto,WWH – Did the title of this article get your attention? Is it because it made your imagination run wild with all sorts of possible scenarios, none of them good? When the news anchor says, “And Senator Swizzlestick was arrested last night for lewd conduct… Details right after the break,” do you sit through the commercials having already passed judgment while you await the lurid account of his crime?
“Lewd conduct” is a euphemism. A euphemism is an expression intended to be less offensive, disturbing, or troubling to the listener than the word or phrase it replaces. It can also be an expression intended by the speaker to make something sound worse than it is… a dysphemism.
Lewd conduct is one of those “umbrella” euphemisms for it covers everything including opening up your trench coat and flashing your genitalia to a passerby, having sex in public, masturbating in front of your living room window, or even making suggestive eye movements to the undercover cop baiting the “perp” with his “come hither” looks and body language. He drools with the imminent collar he is about to make. If his “entrapment” doesn’t yield the intended results, he’s likely to fabricate a sexual intent on the part of the innocent mark. In fact, sometimes the arrested person does nothing more than make eye contact and “cruise” the undercover cop…but the police lie, embellish and exaggerate the facts to make it look like something more than that happened. It’s wrong of course. But it happens all the time. After the arrest and subsequent court appearances, it’s the cop’s word against the alleged “criminal’s.” Guess whose word is almost always taken as truth by the judge?
One night, long enough ago when I could actually stay awake for the “last call” at a bar, two friends and I were walking back to the car, a bit tipsy and laughing. In Seattle, as in most other cities, there are no public restrooms (which I have always considered most uncivilized.) It was about 3AM and one friend had to take a leak… badly. (For the record, this “friend” is not a euphemism for me!) With legs comically crossed, he ran into a dark alley and took a piss behind a dumpster. There was no one else around. But as luck would have it, a police car happened to drive by. He backed up, turned into the alley, the floodlight on the side of the police car trapping my friend in its beam.
The cop got out of the car and said, “You may as well finish what you’re doing and when you’ve zipped up and your hands are free, put them behind your back and tell me if these handcuffs are too tight.” He laughed. Off to jail went my friend, charged with lewd conduct. It was morning before we could raise enough money for the bail. When he finally appeared in court, he was slapped with a fine for lewd conduct and given a year’s probation. But “LEWD CONDUCT” will forever be a part of his “permanent record.”
I share this story with you as an example of how the mainstream news, politicians, and clever spin doctors use “umbrella” euphemisms, like “lewd conduct,” not to allay fear, but to instill fear or skirt around an issue without having to speak the truth in details. Most of us have come to use the term “doublespeak,” and that is a perfect descriptor for how the language of the media and politicians have distorted the news, and in the process made us skeptical and cynical. Euphemisms pervert the meanings of things. Those meanings eventually become part of the popular language. The truth is strangled. And the blame can be squarely put on the journalists who are too lily-livered and gutless to question the verbiage that’s fed them. Euphemisms and dysphemisms have become the language of an undereducated nation.
Doublespeak is a form of euphemisms or dysphemisms. It is the deliberate usage by governmental, military, or corporate institutions to obfuscate the truth. In a war, people get killed. If it’s deliberate, it’s called “neutralizing the target.” If it’s accidental, it’s called “collateral damage.” Both these phrases soften the reality of the situation. “Collateral damage” removes the images of blood, guts, gore, maiming, and the deaths of innocent men, women, and children from our minds. Repeated often enough, “collateral damage” desensitizes us to the point where we think it is only to be expected. They were lucky we were using “surgical” bombing!
Conservatives often refer to “family values,” whose political goals are to oppress homosexuals and women. The government employs the phrase “regime change” to mean overthrowing another government. The potential use of nuclear weapons is called a “psychological deterrent.” We use the euphemism “casualties” instead of “deaths.” We say the soldier was killed by “friendly fire” rather than being attacked and killed by his own troops.
Pollution from “clean coal,” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and other industrial pollution are much more palatable if the polluters use terms like “outgassing” or “runoff.” These terms lessen the possibility of an emotional response and as in so many other examples, deprive us of fully understanding and appreciating what these terms mean in the context of real life.
“Terrorism” and “terrorists” are big euphemistic umbrellas… so big, they hide the sun. “Domestic terrorists” raises my hackles because more and more peaceful protesters, hippies, peaceniks, environmentalists and the disenfranchised are being pushed underneath these umbrellas. If the Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy movements become much larger, I am sure they will be called “domestic terrorists.” Should the movement become too large, I do not doubt for a moment, martial law would be declared, and masses would be arrested. With the passage of the National Defense Authorization Bill, “terrorists” would be detained under military jurisprudence (no habeas corpus, no formal charges necessary or notifying relatives, and no limit to the amount of time one is detained) in “correctional centers,” another euphemism for prisons. If the President does not veto this bill, which allows FEMA under the auspices of Homeland Security (another euphemism,) to build more detention centers within our borders, it will be another knife in my back. FEMA is already advertising for “guards” who will secure these “detention centers.”
What are your emotional responses to “the war on drugs?” This is another huge umbrella! How about “illegal aliens?” And of course who could be against the “Patriot Act?” If you are, then you are not a Patriot, which automatically makes you a Traitor or at least very suspect!
I could go on, but the list would be too long. I am sure each of you can add to the examples I have given. But I ask all of you, who do not make the headlines or sound bites your sole source of news, to listen carefully and scrutinize these euphemisms when you recognize them. Try to find the truth they attempt to veil. It is the conduct of bureaucrats, the media, and politicians; governmental, corporate, and military institutions, who purposely try to hide behind a wall of illusion so that we never glimpse the truth. It is an audacious and despicable twisting of meanings and words deliberately meant to deceive. It is this that I consider truly LEWD CONDUCT!
May your days be filled with Pre-Hostility! (A military euphemism for PEACE!)
To contact Phil or find out more: check out his website and blog For a copy of HUNGA DUNGA
Phil Polizatto – Worldwide Hippies Bureau Chief – West Coast USA, is a graduate of The School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. He was a feature writer for the overseas division of UPI, a copywriter for CBS, and an award-winning corporate film producer. Mr. Polizatto is a published poet and a regular contributor to Worldwide Hippies as well as a variety of other arts and literary journals. Hunga Dunga is his first published novel. He resides in the Pacific Northwest.