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eden2eve's avatar

Have you noiced how many common euphemisms in the English language are related to violence?

Asked by eden2eve (3693 points ) June 6th, 2010

It has occurred to me that there seem to be numbers of common phrases, mostly suggesting positive situations, that relate to violence or, at the least, less-than-gentle behaviors.

Examples I’ve noticed are “hard hitting”, “brutally frank”, “cutting edge”, “barbed”, “cutting remarks” “edgy”, “banging it out”, “hitting it off”, “roasted”, “getting smashed or hammered”, “killing time”, “killing two birds with one stone”, “more than one way to skin a cat”.

There are many sexual terms with violent overtones, which we won’t go into here . . .

Can you think of any others I’ve missed?

Where does all this come from? Are we as a culture applauding aggression, and if so, can we wonder why there is so much brutality in the world today?

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10 Answers

Rufus_T_Firefly's avatar

Well, it’s better than a sharp stick in the eye.
Sock it to me.
Punch it. (Step on the accelerator)
I’ll take a stab at it.

I’m not sure why most euphemisms are linguistically-linked to violence, except that softer language might not depict the same extreme degree of emphasis in conversation. It’s probably just a colorful way to shorten what might normally be a much longer conversation. Such euphemisms add a little variety to speech and apply additional emphasis. I doubt it applauds aggression. as the use of such interesting vernacular doesn’t always describe violence, nor does it require an accompanying violent physical act in order to perceive the point being emphasized.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

That is an excellent question eden2eve. Yes, that is true, and I think it really reflects the violent state of our society, and how society has deteriorated morally within the last 45 years. The ones with sexual overtones, in particular, clearly reflect this change in morales. Do you notice how most movie and show titles are “aggressive” or “negative” in nature? E.g, “Die Hard”, “Bounty Hunter”, “The Replacement Killers”, “Kill Bill”, “Unforgiven”, etc., I could go on and on. And it’s just not action films, but comedies too—-“The Jerk”, “Dumb and Dumber”, “Everybody Hates Chris”, “Ugly Betty”, etc. Sigh. Makes me a pessimist about the future of our society.

ChaosCross's avatar

I believe they sound so violent because people naturally relate violence to power.

So to make your phrase sound more powerful and impacting, use more violent linguistics.

reverie's avatar

This is a really interesting question, and not one I have really thought about before. In answering the question, I was trying to think of more positively-toned expressions and found it much harder, and although that’s not really an objective test of the state of our language, I would agree with your hunch that there do seem to be more negatively-toned or “violent” expressions that refer to (potentially) neutral acts.

It would be really interesting to look at the development of these expressions, and to look back in history, and see how idioms like this have been used in the past. Like @Rufus_T_Firefly, I’m not sure that I buy that they are implicitly linked to violence in our culture, or an applauding or acceptance of violence (if anything, in Western culture, I think people were much more physically “hands-on” violent to one another hundreds of years ago), but it’s an interesting topic nonetheless.

Sorry to be nit-picky, as I think this is a really good question, but these examples that you refer to aren’t euphemisms. A euphemism is an expression or word that you use in place of another expression or word that is deemed unpleasant or offensive in some way.

For example, one might use the euphemism “passed away” to refer to someone that has “died” or “been killed”, because the former is more soft, and less brutal-sounding than the last two. The terms “getting smashed” and “hitting it off” aren’t euphemisms because they aren’t more acceptable or pleasant words that are being used to replace words that are particularly unpleasant in some way (“getting drunk” and “getting on really well with” respectively).

Talimze's avatar

I remember George Carlin once talking about how the language of comedy was pretty violent and morbid. Like, if a comic is successful, then he “killed ‘em” or “knocked them dead,” and if he wasn’t then he was “dying out there” or it was “like death out there.”
Those are the only ones I can think of.

I’m not sure why a lot of our everyday language is so violent. If I had to guess, I would say that it’s because violence and death are two extreme parts of life, so if you really want to exaggerate something for effect, you link it to those things.

Rufus_T_Firefly's avatar

Maybe a more accurate and inclusive term would be ‘euphemistic phrases’ instead of ‘euphemisms’.

Kraigmo's avatar

This is because sports fans, salesmen, and executives all love euphemisms more than average, so the terms tend to tilt towards things they would say.

anartist's avatar

backstabbed him, ran right over him, are a few more
Terms are aggressive descriptions of people trying to assert themselves in this world. And even if the assertion is more politic, it is assertion. Without assertion, one would never enter the flow of civilization at all. The aggression just makes for stronger more colorful language.

Ever notice how hard sportscasters have to work to come up with alternatives to Such-an-such a team won over such-and-such? Beat, smashed, trampled etc.

That being said, who would really enjoy life’s activities being described in Pollyannaish terms?

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Blasted him
Beat him like a tent stake
Kick you’re a** into the middle of the week after next
Stung up by the next.
Whip him like the dog the step child brought home.
Beat him like a redheaded step child
Make him touch every wall in this room.
Give him a check up from the neck up.
Rip your arm off and beat you to death with it.
I gonna blow his brains out.
Put a cap (bullet) into him
Tear him limb from limb
I am going to slaughter her.
I am going to put one between his eyes.
I am going to lay you out like cord wood.
When I am done with you, you will be like a jig saw puzzle with many pieces gone.
You will be in a world of hurt.
She is going to get punches in bunches.

anartist's avatar

I think there are just about as many euphemisms using sex [which in this context probably implies violence] such as the ever popular “fucked him over real good”, screwed him out of a . . ., “shoved it up his ass”, fucked him up one side and down the other”, “nailed him”

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