Euphemisms are dangerous

Ruthless people love euphemisms because they obscure the truth. So the inevitable and predictable deaths of civilians and the destruction of civil amenities in war are hidden behind the innocuous term “collateral damage” and genocide is hidden behind the bland “ethnic cleansing” and so on. Euphemisms are dangerous because they make it harder for us to see and understand the abuses of the powerful. And if we can’t see and understand something, we have no hope of resisting it.

But not only this. Euphemisms also make it easier for us to go along with something that we would know was wrong if it were named honestly. For example, it’s much easier to get a soldier to kill a member of a different community if they are told they are cleaning up society than if it were named correctly as murder.

“Sex work” and “sex worker”

“Sex work” and “sex worker” are euphemisms. These terms were first coined in the late 1970s and were taken up as part of a deliberate attempt to normalise and sanitise prostitution. By shifting the language from the word “prostitution” which is ugly and conjures up something of its reality, to “sex work” which sounds wholesome and healthy, it has become harder for us all to see and understand and resist the reality. The reality that prostitution is not simply another job like being a waitress.

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