VCE English Language - Euphemism of the Year?

April 13, 2021Klein E

In today's post, I want to show you a VERY MODERN example of how euphemism has been used in corporate speak in the media recently and how this ties into its obfuscatory and confusing purpose.

First, watch the video here at the top of this page to give you context:

To give you some context, I am sure many of you have heard about the customer being dragged out of the plane by Airport security on United Airlines a few days ago. As a viral video spread across the Internet, showing a man dragged off a plane, bloodied and protesting, after paying for a ticket to be on that plane, CEO Oscar Munoz released a statement apologising “for having to re-accommodate” customers like him who found themselves bumped from a flight.

Let's just stop right here and look at the lexeme 're-accommodate'. What does this mean? In fact, after the statement, the search for this term went up 80,000% on the Merriam-Webster dictionary website. So obviously, the public didn't know.

“It’s all about context,” says Zimmer, a sociolinguist, of why this euphemism is so remarkable.

“There’s this enormous disconnect between people’s eyewitness views of a man being pummelled, versus this antiseptic corporate speak that came out in the apology.”

In the days of social media, when there are helpful visual aides that can contrast with a politician’s or company’s account of a controversial event – and when armies of irascible tweeters are ready to pounce on a single misplaced descriptor – euphemisms aren’t great deflective shields. As hundreds of thousands of people watched the video and felt empathy for the man, Zimmer says, the notion that he was being accommodated not just once but twice conveyed a robotic lack of “human emotion.”

Euphemisms can certainly be used for good. But this particular euphemism 're-accommodate' has been used as a means of cloaking shame. They would rather forget about it, so let's not call it for what it is. Therefore it didn't actually happen, right?

The language used by airline representatives often seems to be “the corporate voice from nowhere, where there’s no discernible individual behind the language, addressing people who want to engage in an emotional way and who are often shut down,” Zimmer says. No doubt United has received some backlash about the statement out of frustration travellers have built up over years toward this type of doublespeak.

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Klein E

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