THE BLOG

The Age of Euphemism

05/22/2015 01:26 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2016

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Amongst the many indignities of modern life is the ever increasing demand to mince words. We live in the age of euphemism and you are always forced to look over your shoulder to make sure there isn't someone about to flunk you for language failure. In France, you'd cry out "garcon" when you wanted an espresso in a café. That was the only way to get it, but now nobody calls out "waiter," an appellation that probably is against the law in California, where sex on a college campus currently requires "affirmative consent." You have a "server," who you have to wait for. California might be voted the most politically correct state in the nation and one wonders how, for instance, "affirmative consent" affects sales of Victorian pornography like Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs (1870), whose characters openly violate the statute and exhibit the kind of "triggering" behavior that violates social norms in the state.

"Blacks" replaced "negroes" and then gave way to "people of color," but why is that expression less offensive than "colored people"? There are many theories, but a racist can easily use all the right words and still be talking through his ass. Once upon a time there were men who referred to their women as hogs and who referred to mentally ill people as psychos. Carroll O'Connor played a character called Archie Bunker who parodied such thuggish behavior, but satire by way of hyperbole would probably not succeed in running the gauntlet of today's Newspeak. The intent of all this policing is the idea that language affects action. Haven't any of these protectors of the common good realized that "as if" behavior can lead to the creation of a false self. When human beings are corralled into expressing themselves in certain ways in public, they depend on secret societies where they are able to speak their minds. Steven Marcus wrote about a book called The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England which dealt with the cultural schizophrenia that developed in another age in which behavior was famously regulated. And then there's the improv group, The Upright Citizens Brigade which is an equal opportunity offender, trashing all the good intentions of our current iterations of the Women's Christian Temperance Union.

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}