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Monday, April 2, 2012

Explaining the Self-Explanatory (April 10, 2012)


Euphemisms are so…funny. We all use them, me included. There are certain words each of us would prefer not to utter. Maybe we’re trying to be tactful or maybe it’s more about our own squeamishness. We won’t waste time arguing about which words are safe for public consumption.

But can we agree that euphemisms for certain words are just unnecessary? (Perhaps we won’t agree on this, but it’s my blog so I’ll take the stage on this issue at hand.) Today I spotted a container attached to a light pole, and even though I have no dog, I stopped to read the instructions. Perhaps I was drawn to read them because it seemed odd to me that instructions were necessary for the proper use of doggie bags. (And I’m not talking about the container you take home from a restaurant.) The photo above shows the front of the container.
What really got me going were the instructions on the side. Sometimes instructions are visuals only, so that if a visitor sees the sign and does not understand English, the message is still understood. This was not the case today. The instructions are in English and are accompanied by
a visual, but the whole reason for my blogging about this is below:

What if a non English-speaking visitor reads this sign and cannot figure out to which “nuisance” the sign refers? The visitor consults the pocket English dictionary s/he has tucked into an enormous pant pocket and feels more confused than ever. The visitor wonders how to capture pain, pests or trouble (all synonyms for “nuisance”) in a bag. How does one capture pain? Which pests need capturing? Bees? Telemarketers? How can trouble fit (willingly) into a small plastic bag? The visitor will return home bewildered by American traditions and language. Friends from home will ask about the trip to California and the answer will involve a confused ramble about trouble bags.
Sometimes the euphemistic replacement word is so sterilized that it causes you to think more and more about the word deemed unfit to say. Whereas if the original word had been used, everyone would forget about it shortly thereafter, and it would be completely unblogworthy.
So why is “poop” such a taboo word, according to the makers of these Nuisance Bags? Why can’t the instructions use that word? And really, do we actually need instruction on how to pick up nuisances, poop or ground-level trash of any sort? Anyone old enough to do it will know not to grab the nuisance with a bare hand. Do we need a movement to bring back real words? Anyone with me?!

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