1. "I must say these are fine biscuits!" exclaimed the young husband. "How could you say those are fine biscuits?" inquired the young wife's mother, in a private interview. "I didn't say they were fine. I merely said I must say so."
2. "Willie," said his mother, "I wish you would run across the street and see how old Mrs. Brown is this morning." "Yes'm," replied Willie and a few minutes later he returned and reported: "Mrs. Brown says it's none of your business how old she is."
3. "Yes, she's married to a real-estate agent and a good, honest fellow, too."
"My gracious! Bigamy?"
4. Willie: Won't your pa spank you for staying out so late?
Tommy (whose father is a lawyer): No, I'll get an injunction from та postponing the spanking, and then I'll appeal to grandma and she'll have it made permanent.
5. A man entered the bar and called for "a Martinus". The barman observed as he picked up a glass, "You mean Martini, sir!" "No, indeed I don't," the man replied. "I was taught Latin properly and I only want
6. A foreigner was relating his experience in studying the English language. He said: "When I first discovered that if I was quick I was fast; that if I was tied I was fast; and that not to eat was fast, I was discouraged. But when I came across the sentence, 'The first one won one-dollar prize' I gave up trying."
7. J a n e: Would you be insulted if that good-looking stranger offered you some champagne?
Joan: Yes, but I'd probably swallow the insult.
The Dominant Synonym
The attentive reader will have noticed that in the previous chapter much use was made of the numerous synonyms of the verb to look, and yet, the verb to look itself was never mentioned. That doesn't seem fair because it is, certainly, a verb which possesses the highest frequency of use compared with its synonyms, and so plays an important role in communication. Its role and position in relation to its synonyms is also of some importance as it presents a kind of centre of the group of synonyms, as it were, holding it together.
Its semantic structure is quite simple: it consists only of denotative component and it has no connotations.
All (or, at least, most) synonymic groups have a "central" word of this kind whose meaning is equal to the denotation common to all the synonymic group. This word is called the dominant synonym.
Here are examples of other dominant synonyms with their groups:
To surprise — to astonish — to amaze — to astound.
To shout — to yell — to bellow — to roar. To shine — to flash — to blaze — to gleam — to glisten — to sparkle — to glitter — to shimmer — to glimmer.
To tremble — to shiver — to shudder — to shake.
To make — to produce — to create — to fabricate — to manufacture.
Angry — furious — enraged.
Fear — terror — horror.
The dominant synonym expresses the notion common to all synonyms of the group in the most general way, without contributing any additional information as to the manner, intensity, duration or any attending feature of the referent. So, any dominant synonym is a typical basic-vocabulary word (see Ch. 2). Its meaning, which is broad and generalized, more or less "covers" the meanings of the rest of the synonyms, so that it may be substituted for any of them. It seems that here, at last, the idea of interchangeability of synonyms comes into its own. And yet, each such substitution would mean an irreparable loss of the additional information supplied by connotative components of each synonym. So, using to look instead of to glare, to stare, to peep, to peer we preserve the general sense of the utterance but lose a great deal in precision, expressiveness and colour.
Summing up what has been said, the following characteristic features of the dominant synonym can be underlined:
I. High frequency of usage.
II. Broad combinability, i. e. ability to be used in combinations with various classes of words.
III. Broad general meaning.
IV. Lack of connotations. (This goes for stylistic connotations as well, so that neutrality as to style is also a typical feature of the dominant synonym.)
There are words in every language which people instinctively avoid because they are considered indecent, indelicate, rude, too direct or impolite. As the "offensive" referents, for which these words stand, must still be alluded to, they are often described in a round-about way, by using substitutes called euphemisms. This device is dictated by social conventions which are sometimes apt to be over-sensitive, see "indecency" where there is none and seek refinement in absurd avoidances and pretentiousness.
The word lavatory has, naturally, produced many euphemisms. Here are some of them: powder room, washroom, restroom, retiring room, (public) comfort station, ladies' (room), gentlemen's (room), water-closet, w. c. ([dabljH`sJ]), public conveniences and even Windsor castle (which is a comical phrase for "deciphering" w.c.).
Pregnancy is another topic for "delicate" references. Here are some of the euphemisms used as substitutes for the adjective pregnant: in an interesting condition, in a delicate condition, in the family way, with a baby coming, (big) with child, expecting.
The apparently innocent word trousers, not so long ago, had a great number of euphemistic equivalents, . some of them quite funny: unmentionables, inexpressibles, indescribables, unwhisperables, you-mustn't-mention ‘ems, sit-upons. Nowadays, however, nobody seems to regard this word as "indecent" any more, and so its . euphemistic substitutes are no longer in use. y A landlady who refers to her lodgers as paying t guests is also using a euphemism, aiming at half-concealing the embarrassing fact that she lets rooms.
The love of affectation, which displays itself in the t excessive use of euphemisms, has never been a sign of a good taste or genuine refinement. Quite the opposite. I Fiction writers have often ridiculed pretentious people Ц for their weak attempts to express themselves in a delicate and refined way.
"... Mrs. Sunbury never went to bed, she retired, but Mr. Sunbury who was not quite so refined as his wife always said: "Me for Bedford" ..."
(From The Kite by W. S. Maugham)
To retire in this ironical passage is a euphemistic substitute for to go to bed.
Another lady, in Rain by the same author, easily surpasses Mrs. Sunbury in the delicacy of her speech. She says that there are so many mosquitoes on the island where the story is set that at the Governor's parties "all the ladies are given a pillow-slip to put their — their lower extremities in."
The speaker considers the word legs to be "indelicate" and substitutes for it its formal synonym lower extremities (cf. with the R. нижние конечности). The substitution makes her speech pretentious and ridiculous.
Eating is also regarded as unrefined by some minds. Hence such substitutes as to partake of food (of refreshment), to refresh oneself, to break bread.
There are words which are easy targets for euphemistic substitution. These include words associated with drunkenness, which are very numerous.
The adjective drunk, for instance, has a great number of such substitutes, some of them "delicate", but most comical. E. g. intoxicated (form.), under the influence (form.), tipsy, mellow, fresh, high, merry, flustered, overcome, full (coil.), drunk as a lord (coil.), drunk as an owl (coil.), boiled (sl.), fried (sl.), tanked (sl.), tight (sl.), stiff (sl.), pickled (sl.), soaked (sl.), three sheets to the wind (sl.), high as a kite (sl.), half-seas-over (sl.), etc.
The following brief quotation from P. G. Wodehouse gives two more examples of words belonging to the same group:
"Motty was under the surface. Completely sozzled."
(From Right-Ho. Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse)
In the following extracts from P. G. Wodehouse we find slang substitutes for two other "unpleasant" words: prison and to imprison.
"Oh, no, he isn't ill," I said, "and as regards accidents, it depends on what you call an accident. He's in chokey."
"... And now Mr. Sipperley is in the jug... He couldn't come himself, because he was jugged for biffing a cop on Boat-Race Night."
Euphemisms may, of course, be used due to genuine concern not to hurt someone's feelings. For instance, a liar can be described as a person who does not always strictly tell the truth and a stupid man can be said to be not exactly brilliant.
All the euphemisms that have been described so far are used to avoid the so-called social taboos. Their use, as has already been said, is inspired by social convention.
Superstitious taboos gave rise to the use of other type of euphemisms. The reluctance to call things by their proper names is also typical of this type of euphemisms, but this time it is based on a deeply-rooted subconscious fear.
Superstitious taboos have their roots in the distant past of mankind when people believed that there was a supernatural link between a name and the object or creature it represented. Therefore, all the words denoting evil spirits, dangerous animals, or the powers of nature were taboo. If uttered, it was believed that unspeakable disasters would result not only for the speaker but also for those near him. That is why all creatures, objects and phenomena threatening danger were referred to in a round-about descriptive way. So, a dangerous animal might be described as the one-lurking-in-the-wood and a mortal disease as the black death. Euphemisms are probably the oldest type of synonyms, for it is reasonable to assume that superstitions which caused real fear called for the creation of euphemisms long before the need to describe things in their various aspects or subtle shades caused the appearance of other synonyms.
The Christian religion also made certain words taboo. The proverb Speak of the devil and he will appear must have been used and taken quite literally when it was first used, and the fear of calling the devil by name was certainly inherited from ancient superstitious beliefs. So, the word devil became taboo, and a number of euphemisms were substitutes for it: the Prince of Darkness, the black one, the evil one, dickens (coil.), deuce (coil.), (Old) Nick (coil.).
The word God, due to other considerations, also had a great number of substitutes which can still be traced in such phrases as Good Lord/. By Heavens!, Good Heavens!, (My) goodness!, (My) goodness gracious!, Gracious me!
Even in our modern emancipated times, old superstitious fears still lurk behind words associated with death and fatal diseases. People are not superstitious nowadays and yet they are surprisingly reluctant to use the verb to die which has a long chain of both solemn and humorous substitutes. E. g. to pass away, to be taken, to breathe one's last, to depart this life, to close one's eyes, to yield (give) up the ghost, to go the way of all flesh, to go West (sl.), to kick off (sl.), to check out (sl.), to kick the bucket (sl.), to take a ride (sl.), to hop the twig (sl.), to join the majority (sl.).
The slang substitutes seem to lack any proper respect, but the joke is a sort of cover for the same old fear: speak of death and who knows what may happen.
Mental diseases also cause the frequent use of euphemisms.
A mad person may be described as insane, mentally unstable, unbalanced, unhinged, not (quite) right (coil.), not all there (coil.), off one's head (coil.), off one's rocker (coil.), wrong in the upper storey (coil.), having bats in one's belfry (coil.), crazy as a bedbug (coil.), cuckoo (sl.), nutty (sl.), off one's nut (sl.), loony (sl.), a mental case, a mental defective, etc.
A clinic for such patients can also be discreetly referred to as, for instance, an asylum, sanitarium, sanatorium, (mental) institution, and, less discreetly, as a nut house (sl.), booby hatch (sl.), loony bin (sl.), etc.
In the story by Evelyn Waugh "Mr. Loveday's Little Outing" a clinic of this kind, treating only very rich patients, is described as large private grounds suitable for the charge of nervous or difficult cases. This is certainly the peak of euphemistic "delicacy".
The great number of humorous substitutes found in such groups of words prove particularly tempting for writers who use them for comical purposes. The following extracts from a children's book by R. Dahl are, probably, not in the best of taste, but they demonstrate the range of colloquial and slang substitutes for the word mad.
"He's gone off his rocker!" shouted one of the fathers, aghast, and the other parents joined in the chorus of frightened shouting.
"He's crazy!" they shouted.
"No, he is not!" said Grandpa Joe.
(From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by R. Dahl)
... "What did I tell you!" — cried Grandma Georgina. "He's round the twist! He's bogged as a beetle! He's dotty as a dingbat! He's got rats in the roof!..."
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All the above examples show that euphemisms are substitutes for their synonyms. Their use and very existence are caused either by social conventions or by certain psychological factors. Most of them have stylistic connotations in their semantic structures. One can also assume that there is a special euphemistic connotation that can be singled out in the semantic structure of each such word. Let us point out, too, that euphemistic connotations in formal euphemisms are different in "flavour" from those in slang euphemistic substitutes. In the first case they are solemn and delicately evasive, and in the second rough and somewhat cynical, reflecting an attempt to laugh off an unpleasant fact.
We use the term antonyms to indicate words of the same category of parts of speech which have contrasting meanings, such as hot — cold, light —- dark, happiness — sorrow, to accept — to reject, up — down.
If synonyms form whole, often numerous, groups, antonyms are usually believed to appear in pairs. Yet, this is not quite true in reality. For instance, the adjective cold may be said to have warm for its second antonym, and sorrow may be very well contrasted with gaiety.
On the other hand, a polysemantic word may have an antonym (or several antonyms) for each of its meanings. So, the adjective dull has the antonyms interesting, amusing, entertaining for its meaning of "deficient in interest", clever, bright, capable for its meaning of "deficient in intellect", and active for the meaning of "deficient in activity", etc.
Antonymy is not evenly distributed among the categories of parts of speech. Most antonyms are adjectives which is only natural because qualitative characteristics are easily compared and contrasted: high — low, wide — narrow, strong — weak, old — young, friendly — hostile.
Verbs take second place, so far as antonymy is concerned. Yet, verbal pairs of antonyms are fewer in number. Here are some of them: to lose — to find, to live — to die, to open — to close, to weep — to laugh.
Nouns are not rich in antonyms, but even so some examples can be given: friend — enemy, joy — grief, good — evil, heaven — earth, love — hatred.
Antonymic adverbs can be subdivided into two groups: a) adverbs derived from adjectives: warmly — coldly, merrily -— sadly, loudly — softly, b) adverbs proper: now — then, here — there, ever — never, up — down, in — out.
* * *
Not so many years ago antonymy was not universally accepted as a linguistic problem, and the opposition within antonymic pairs was regarded as purely logical and finding no reflection in the semantic structures of these words. The contrast between heat and cold or big and small, said most scholars, is the contrast of things opposed by their very nature.
In the previous chapter dealing with synonymy we saw that both the identity and differentiations in words called synonyms can be said to be encoded within their semantic structures. Can the same be said about antonyms? Modern research in the field of antonymy gives a positive answer to this question. Nowadays most scholars agree that in the semantic structures of all words, which regularly occur in antonymic pairs, a special antonymic connotation can be singled out. We are so used to coming across hot and cold together, in the same contexts, that even when we find hot alone, we cannot help subconsciously registering it as not cold, that is, contrast it to its missing antonym. The word possesses its full meaning for us not only due to its direct associations but also because we subconsciously oppose it to its antonym, with which it is regularly used, in this case to hot. Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that the semantic structure of hot can be said to include the antonymic connotation of "not cold", and the semantic structure of enemy the connotation of "not a friend".
It should be stressed once more that we are speaking only about those antonyms which are characterized by common occurrences, that is, which are regularly used in pairs. When two words frequently occur side by side in numerous contexts, subtle and complex associations between them are not at all unusual. These associations are naturally reflected in the words' semantic structures. Antonymic connotations are a special case of such "reflected associations".
* * *
Together with synonyms, antonyms represent the language's important expressive means. The following quotations show how authors use antonyms as a stylistic device of contrast.
How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty1 world.
(From Merchant of Venice by W. Shakespeare. Act V, Sc. I)
... But then ray soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
(From Sonnet XXVII by W. Shakespeare)
Welcome joy, and welcome sorrow,
Lethe's weed and Hermes' feather,
Come to-day, and come to-morrow,
I do love you both together!
I love to mark sad faces in fair weather;
And hear a merry laughter amid the thunder;
Fair and foul I love together.
(From A Song of Opposites by J. Keats)
... The writer should seek his reward in the pleasure of his work and in release from the burden of his thought; and indifferent to aught else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure or success.
(From The Moon and Sixpence by W. S. Maugham)
They [the Victorians] were busy erecting, of course; and we have been busy demolishing for so long that now erection seems as ephemeral an activity as bubble-blowing.
(From The French Lieutenant's Woman by J. Fowles)2