Using Euphemisms and Useless Neighbors

It cooled down so low I could read a book inside my hothouse this afternoon. While I was reading Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life, and feeling pretty happy I have this girl's life and not his, I kept hearing this THWOT....THWOT sound coming from somewhere in my apartment. I thought something was falling off the shelves in the kitchen. So I went to check the shelves in the kitchen, and I found a man in the green courtyard, three stories below, in a red polo shirt and loafers, thwotting whiffle balls at my window with a golf club. At first, I kind of hid behind the frame of the window, but then I was thinking, hey wait, this guy is playing golf against my apartment. I thought about asking him just what he thought he was doing, in a sitcom-mom voice, but I didn't say anything. It would have been too awkward. That's the problem with living in close proximity to other people-- you either like them or you make things really awkward with them. If things get awkward with that guy, it'll be because he's striking plastic balls at places where other people live, not because I said the wrong thing.

I'm convinced some people prefer awkwardness to niceness, like the neighbors who live below us. I introduced myself with my name, and then never got names from them. So, at the end of the conversation (a pretty gracious term for our exchange), I said, "What were your names?" and right when it came out, I was thinking, what were your names?? What does that mean? That they already said them or they're dead or lost their names? Maybe that's the feeling they intended to give me.

"Dan." "Brandy." No other words. No hands. I offered my hand because I felt like we needed to somehow seal the deal that we would make nice with each other on the stairs, and it was reluctantly shooken. Shaken. Shaked. Shook.

Sometimes I don't think we even know the meaning of the words we're saying, we just use the ones we're supposed to say.

(The handshakes were of the cold fish variety).

Euphemisms, for example, are words or phrases we don't even notice anymore. I looked them up on Wikipedia (which might, in fact, be making me dumber), and the categories are as follows: religious, excretory, sexual, profane, death-related, and job-related. As if it's not wierd enough that we need less offensive words for the words themselves, we also use euphemisms for the very things we interact with most regularly and frequently every day.

There's a whole can of worms with euphemisms here but I'll just perforate that can for now. One thing that bugs me (bugs me? wierd) is that, according to W, euphemisms "make it less troublesome for the speaker." Shouldn't speaking be troublesome? Isn't that the burden of opening your mouth- that you better know what's coming out, and it better come out well?

Another issue I have with doublespeak is that originally, it was used in place of religious words that were too sacred to utter aloud. This is an idea I like. I see the merit in reserving some things, in designating some things unspeakable. But now, like the pop-culture-hungry-mongers we are, we have begun to use euphemisms for things that are the opposite of sacred. In turn, the euphemisms themselves have become profane (a process called the "euphemism treadmill" or making things into "dysphemisms"- like the word "retarded" which started out as a nice p.c. replacement for calling someone lame, and has now gone down the pejorative toilet and once again, means lame). What are we doing? (Oh, and also, "lame" didn't used to mean "lame," it just meant unable to walk. We ruined that one, too). (I use it all the time).

I have to admit, though, I do like some of these babies. Particularly the skein of death words we've wound in order to avoid the bad thing itself (and unfortunately, I'm not smart enough to rattle them off myself, so I'm pasting from W):

passed away, passed on, checked out, bit the big one, kicked the bucket, bitten the dust, popped their clogs, pegged it, carked it, turned their toes up, bought the farm (my personal fave), cashed in their chips, croaked, given up the ghost, gone south, gone west, shuffled off this mortal coil, Run down the curtain and joined the Choir Invisible (also pretty good), assumed room temperature, pushing up daisies (which tv ruined. typical.), sleeping the big sleep, taking a dirt nap, checking out the grass from underneath and six feet under.

I also like that someone took the time to log this on Wikipedia:

piss and shit in some cases may be acceptable among informal (and usually younger) friends (while they almost are never acceptable in formal relationships or public use).

So am I glorifying or demonizing our creatively evasive approach to saying what we don't want to say? I don't really know. I like clever euphemisms, but I think it's getting a little out of control, and I also think "I'm not gonna lie" should be put under moratorium until it re-emerges with its original intent. I'm of the mind that we should say what we mean, and mean what we say, and the doublespeak that has so easily replaced meaningful dialogue is making intelligent discourse an increasingly difficult task.