Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998


James Valentine (1998) 'Naming the Other: Power, Politeness and the Inflation of Euphemisms'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 3, no. 4, <>

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Received: 12/06/98      Accepted: 18/12/98      Published: 31/12/98


This paper draws on Japanese, British and other material for a comparative analysis of name-calling. Naming the other is a means of identification, helping to establish definitions of self. Definitional power is socially distributed: the power of the mainstream is orchestrated by expert classifications of marginality that disparage others, often in the form of euphemisms. It is argued that the demand for euphemisms is generated by etiquette, modernist ideology and the power of protest. Cases are examined where euphemisms are dispensable or too troublesome, and where conversely it becomes necessary to coin further cultivated euphemisms in an inflationary manner. Euphemisms are disputed in power struggles of linguistic rectitude, involving accusations of political correctness. In terminological conflict, the power of the other to resist, subvert or escape naming must be recognised, yet unequal definitional resources render celebrations of postmodernism premature: dominant designations can effect the containment and denial of being.

Disability; Ethnicity; Euphemism; Identity; Japan; Marginality; Name; Political Correctness; Sexuality


Recent analyses of self and other (Ricoeur 1992; Harré 1998) emphasise the singularity of self in interaction with others, and the contribution of naming and narrative to the construction of identity. Naming has long been recognised as fundamental to identity in the symbolic interactionist tradition. Yet in this tradition, as well as in the recent contributions that emphasise singularity, there is a relative neglect of the way in which selves are collectively constructed against others, and of the role of naming in contrastive identification.

The discussion here will focus on the naming of people who are marginalised through dominant conceptions of racial and sexual identity. This perspective calls for an examination of the power to name, that is often absent from symbolic interactionist and postmodern accounts. Recognition of the social distribution of definitional power also raises the issue of the role of expertise in identifying otherness.

A society that itself is deemed fundamentally 'other', from a Western perspective, is Japan. This often means that sociological research on Japan is marginalised, and either left out of discussion of contemporary sociological issues, or regarded as a special (even unique) case that precludes comparative analysis. Treating Japan in isolation confirms this view, and fails to take advantage of the rich material that this society, with particularities like any other, offers for comparative research on marginal identities that are structurally significant but unacknowledged. The acknowledgement of otherness within Japanese society is veiled by a tendency towards indirect reference, which fashions a linguistic coating and involves the proliferation of euphemisms. Examining the context in which these are produced will uncover the features of societies where euphemisms are encouraged or demanded.

The demand for euphemisms cannot always be fulfilled. Evidence will be given of sexual and racialised groupings in Japan where euphemisms need not or cannot apply, and where discriminatory connotations show through any linguistic coating. Where euphemisms are required and applicable, a process of inflation may be traced, both in terms of the length of the euphemism and demands for new coinage.

The inflation of euphemisms can lead to a move 'back to basics', to regain terminology supposedly free from 'political' accretions. Accusations of political correctness will however be shown to be part of a wider struggle for power in naming. In this struggle, marginalised groups themselves must not be seen as passively accepting dominant designations: there are ways to reclaim naming by and for ourselves. Yet the imbalance of resources must be recognised: I shall argue that, contrary to the visions of a postmodern utopia, marginalised groups are still subject to domination and exclusion through naming, euphemising and muting.

Naming the Other

Naming is central to questions of identity. When asked who or what it is, we are expected to name or categorise. 'The nonidentifiable becomes the unnamable' (Ricoeur 1992: p. 149), so that inability to name may be read as failure to identify. A person is identified through names: 'to be a person is, amongst other things, to have a name' (Harré 1998: p. 65). Naming assigns 'words of identity' that form part of the appearance of self (Stone 1962: p. 93). Strauss notes the centrality of language in general, and names in particular, in fixing identity and marking its changes (1997: pp. 17 - 19). Names can thus demonstrate achievement; but names are also ascribed, and can be forced on recipients against their will. Such names (like the labels indicated by labelling theory) may be difficult to shake off: unpleasant nicknames, focusing on deviations from the normal and 'right' (Harré 1998: p. 66), can stick to you, and can hurt. In extreme cases names may be denied to people: a prison regime may launch an assault on identity through regimentation of appearance and the reduction of individuality to a number in a sequence. Accordingly, names announce claims or entitlement to being. They proclaim who we are and who we are not: self and others.[1]

In definitions of self, the other is at least implicitly identified, just as defining the other implicitly characterises self. Ricoeur notes that 'the Other is not only the counterpart of the Same but belongs to the intimate constitution of its sense' (1992: p. 329), and focuses on the way in which the other is incorporated into the self (strongly reminiscent of a symbolic interactionist perspective) through identification in or with others (1992: p. 121). Contrastive identification, of us against them, is just as significant. The often implicit nature of this opposition means that self can be left unspecified, can go unnamed, even while basking in the reflection of a negatively constituted other. Thus dominant representations of black people, disabled people and homosexuals do not require the explicit specification of the dominant white, able-bodied heterosexual self for that self to gain status and distinction. Those who distinguish have the distinction of not being explicitly distinguished. In the same way, the most authoritative systems of classification are those that are taken as natural rather than constructed: the other is incorporated into 'a natural order of disorder' (Foucault 1981: p. 44). Boundaries and limits are most effective when taken for granted, sensed rather than specified: 'The sense of limits implies forgetting the limits' (Bourdieu 1986: p. 470). Identification of the other upholds the boundaries without the need to make direct reference to boundaries or self.

Just as names may place the self, they may locate the other in terms of a wider or narrower scope of belonging. This belonging is not necessarily conceived through relationships, a community defined by interaction. In place of interactional identification, a physical or behavioural attribute may be accorded definitional primacy in characterising who 'they' are. Here names encapsulate the other's identity in terms of key characteristics: the key unlocks the essence of being, summing up all that it is necessary to know. Such knowledge is of course linked to power.

The Power to Name

Naming is itself a form of power. The named is already bounded, confined within limits, though these may mark an exclusive circle or excluded fringe. A name may be a prerequisite not only for social position but also for social action and political solidarity.[2] Bourdieu notes the power of names to impose recognition of one's identity upon others.[3] Equally significant is the power to impose others' identity upon them, as well as the power to deny names for oneself or others. Perhaps the cruellest combination is to be confined and silenced - bound and gagged.

Definitional power is socially distributed. Not all have equal power to make definitions and make them stick. Credibility is accorded to the culturally dominant, through dominant cultures or the power of the majority (mainstream versus marginal), or through the ideological power of an elite or the power of an ideological elite (expertise). In the modern era, expert designation has become especially significant. 'Modern mastery is the power to divide, classify and allocate' (Bauman 1991: p. 15). Typifications are produced by experts who themselves are recognised in a typology that is part of common-sense knowledge (Schutz 1973: pp. 14 - 15). There is a proliferation of specialists in identification, along with a growth of the names in currency. Experts have a special responsibility for characterising the person in terms of key attributes, rendering selective doing as essential being, practice as personage, acts as species: through specification they furnish 'an analytical, visible, and permanent reality' (Foucault 1981: p. 44). They develop complex categories and sub-categories of the other, which carry the wonderful modernist hope (not yet dead, despite the premature celebration of post-modernity) of combining the objectivity of science with an evaluation of ourselves as paragons of normality, health and progress. 'Objective' categorisation thus simultaneously denies the significance of the expert in the identification process, and confirms the superiority of the expert over that which is classified away - and indeed authenticates the identity of expert in and through classification. Complex categorisation provides its own legitimation: 'it is the mere existence of multiple categories that guarantees the legitimacy of the classifying process.' (Sedgwick 1991: p. 251)

Although experts may develop typologies of those beyond the bounds of their own society, as in racist characterisation of 'primitives', their principal role is in identifying the other in their midst, outsiders within. Such marginality cannot be disregarded or dismissed as distant differences: marginal people are too close for comfort and close enough for contempt. Here the power of the mainstream is orchestrated by using expert authority to define the marginal and thereby the boundaries that contain those who fully belong.

Despite the supposedly fated free-for-all that is fêted by postmodernism, and the much heralded collapse of the centre-margin opposition (Muecke 1992: p. 262), the power of the centre remains. Yet mainstream domination does not mean that the margins are marginal in significance: ironically they are centrally significant. They carry the weight of defining mainstream selves and their boundaries of identification: naming others identifies ourselves. Naming the other can be seen in every society, but for some societies other-definition is particularly significant: such is the case for Japan.

Discourse of the Japanese Other

Japan itself is often seen as an alien other against which Western societies define themselves. In the discourse of cultural characterisation, a theory of the Japanese people (Nihonjinron) is built up by both Japanese and foreign scholars who concur on the conformity and homogeneity of 'the Japanese'. Ironically this characterisation reinforces the boundaries, not only between Japanese and others outside, but also in relation to others within Japanese society (Valentine 1997a: pp. 98 - 101). Since unambiguous belonging is deemed vital (Lebra 1976: p. 24), marginality becomes especially significant, belying the claimed homogeneity that denies outsiders within (Valentine 1990: p. 52).

The significant denial and denied significance of outsiders within Japanese society is furthered by the disinclination to name them. In investigating the visibility of outsiders within Japan,[4] I found that it was very difficult for Japanese people to make direct reference to certain marginal groupings, because the available terms were embarrassingly discriminatory or consisted of lengthy euphemisms.

In Japan indirect reference is a normal feature of polite discourse. The self is belittled or even denied direct reference. Similarly, reference to the interacting other may be indirect, avoiding the presumption of too close a relationship, or the respectful distance in the relationship may be demonstrated by appropriate choice of vocabulary and honorific prefixes and suffixes. In Japanese, who 'I' am, and whether I am allowed direct reference, depends upon who you are (again in relation to me/us), which supports Japanese acknowledgement of the relation of self with others.[5]

Beyond the polite delineation of the interacting other lies the sphere of those who are irredeemably 'other' in terms of dominant social categories. Here indirect reference may also be required in polite discourse amongst ourselves about these others. This is not from concern for the feelings of the designated, but from respect for the sensibilities of our interlocutors, that call for offensive subjects to be avoided or carefully couched. Such linguistic coating can be seen as a form of wrapping, that shows consideration for the other in the same way as when gifts are presented elaborately wrapped (Hendry 1993: p. 64).

Although Japan offers an elaborate example, in all societies one can find cases of linguistic coating: addressing certain subjects requires dressing up one's words. A distaste for direct reference renders discriminated others more troublesome to name and increases the demand for euphemisms.

The Demand for Euphemisms

Euphemisms are necessary where politeness demands that the distasteful is given only indirect reference. Namely, euphemisms are encouraged in a society where politeness is highly valued, where indirect reference is considered a sign of good taste, and where direct reference can be embarrassing. The indirectness or tasteful distancing, that is already necessary in polite Japanese discourse in reference to self and other, is further required when referring to others whose existence is embarrassing, or is perhaps an unpleasant reminder of one's own role in the construction of the other. Thus the very mention of certain others is a sign of poor taste, unless they are suitably wrapped. Much the same could be said of lavatorial references in many cultures. The injunction to be indirect applies most fully to those with the keenest status aspirations, whereas those who are indisputably elite, for example the aristocracy in Britain, can use older terms now avoided as too direct, such as lavatory (itself once a euphemism). They may also be able to escape censure for plainly derogatory designation of discriminated groups, while recognising that euphemisms are required for use in less elevated circles: '"The vulgar are influenced by names and titles", said a letter published in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1789.' (Fryer 1984: p. 50)

Euphemisms for discriminated groups are encouraged not only by etiquette, but also by the kind of progressive modernist ideology that claims the incorporation of marginal others in a purportedly non-discriminatory relation to the mainstream, as in the declared respect for human rights by liberal democracies. According to Bauman, modernism professes to apply its instrumental rationality and universalistic laws to everyone equally, offering assimilation to all under the guise of benevolence and tolerance (1991: pp. 105 - 107), yet at the same time, by its quest for order through classification, it engenders the very ambiguities that it attempts to eradicate, just as gardening creates weeds (1991: p. 15). Euphemisms are a way of referring to the unfitting in a way that preserves the modernist promise of liberalism and egalitarianism, of universalism and homogeneity, while continuing to ensure the discrimination of the marginal. Thus in independent India, caste is outlawed, while at the same time specified in the designation of 'scheduled castes' that include the untouchables that are no longer supposed to exist.

In addition to prevailing etiquette and ideology, the power of protest by discriminated groups can encourage the use of euphemisms. If complaints can cause enough trouble or embarrassment, a change of terminology may be effected. Not all those who are disparaged can effectively challenge their designation, however, and not all aspire to euphemistic definition: for private or political purposes plain or apparently derogatory terms may be more apposite, as will be seen in the discussion of 'other definitions of self'.

The demand for euphemisms is thus generated by elaborate etiquette and modernist ideology, along with the power of protesting groups - all evident in Japanese society. Hence it is not only through politeness and linguistic coating that Japan provides a rich ground for the study of euphemisms: the liberal democratic ideology of modern Japan, and the protesting power of some of its marginal groups, further combine to prescribe care and caution in calling names. Yet Japan is not unique in evincing the characteristics that encourage euphemisms: other societies, such as Britain, show similar patterns of politeness, progressive pretensions and protests, so that comparable demand for euphemisms can be found elsewhere.

Even in a society where euphemisms are encouraged, not all discriminated groups become euphemised. Beyond the confines of polite society and progressive modernist ideology, there are cases in which euphemisms 'need not apply'. A grouping that does not have the power to upset prevailing pretensions, or that is seen as a legitimate target for discrimination, may be freely maligned. Nevertheless, for the sake of good taste in polite society, a degree of euphemistic language may still be required, so directly abusive terms may be exchanged for euphemisms that are in fact softer terms of ridicule. Thus the distasteful must still be designated in delicate terms, to show the taste of the speaker or listener rather than out of consideration for the undeserving characters that are euphemistically indicated.

In Japan, as in many societies, while it is considered unacceptable to use directly discriminatory language for disabled or racialised groupings, there are fewer qualms about maligning lesbians and gay men. Etiquette may nonetheless demand an indirect reference to 'one of them': at its extreme this is a mere hand gesture, as in a limp or twisted wrist, though the limited acknowledgement of lesbians may mean that they are not even accorded a gesture (Valentine 1997b: p. 98). More direct reference to homosexuality in Japan is fashioned in foreign forms, or represented as a transgression constructed along the lines of gender rather than sexuality (Valentine 1997c: pp. 63 - 64).

Where disparagement of particular groupings is acceptable, either in the form of directly abusive names or in the guise of delicately disdainful euphemisms, the coining of derogatory designations may be a thriving enterprise. These terms may remain in currency and even be augmented by new ones: deletions and replacements are not required, as objections are not lodged by any section thought to be worth worrying about. Yet where people can cause trouble, calling names may become a matter of concern, in which pretensions to care about the discriminated often derive from consideration of the self-image of the discriminator. This concern may lead to euphemistic substitution, or to denial of reference if naming the other is deemed to cause more trouble than it is worth.

Trouble to Euphemise

In mainstream reference to some marginal groups, who 'spell trouble', no euphemism seems able to escape derogatory connotations, or else divisions among those designated mean that acceptable appellation for some may disturb others. In such cases, where those engaged in dominant discourse are concerned about censure, it may be considered too troublesome to name the other, even in euphemistic terms.

The weight of contempt heaped upon certain groups is such that no euphemism can effectively disguise the disparagement implied: the disdain is quickly exposed, the scorn shows through. As euphemistic reference here retains negative undertones, there may be pressure to develop ever more indirect euphemisms, as noted below. Yet where this search proves fruitless, as it is clear that no euphemism is able to veil effectively enough, it may be deemed preferable in mainstream discourse to maintain a discreet silence. An alternative to euphemism, as a 'terminological solution' to dealing with stigma, is thus 'the solution of non-conceptualisation, of avoiding classification' (Christie 1992: p. 152).

The silent solution is especially favoured in Japan, where discretional silence accords 'the courtesy of protection from possibly harmful speech' (Lebra, 1987: p. 349). One group that is especially difficult to discuss in Japan is Burakumin, seen as an under-caste and subject to a myth of different racial origin (Hane 1982: p. 139). This racialised grouping is estimated to include about three million people (Ohnuki-Tierney 1987: p. 98). Burakumin was itself developed as a euphemism for groups of people who were known before the Meiji era as eta (literally 'much filth' or 'great pollution') or hinin (literally 'non-humans').[6] A more indirect but still abusive term of reference was yotsu, meaning four, and implying non-humans that walk on four legs rather than two. Where it was too distasteful even to mention these outsiders within, a hand gesture could be used (as already noted for gay men): in this case four fingers were held up. Following the Emancipation Edict (Kaihô Rei) of 1871, which legally abolished discrimination, a succession of euphemisms was used in an attempt to change status and attitudes. Eta and hinin became incorporated into commoners (heimin), yet were still distinguished as new commoners (shin heimin). Shin (new) was seen negatively by the peasantry, as it suggested the various new government measures that were seen as restrictions: shin even became a code word to refer to interfering government agents (Mita 1993: p. 178). The places where the new commoners lived became designated 'special communities' (tokushu buraku) (Kaneko 1981: p. 116), before patronising qualifiers such as 'special', 'unliberated' or 'backward' (Murakoshi 1985) were dropped, and the euphemism 'people of special communities' was abbreviated to the obliquely indicative 'community people' (Burakumin). The term buraku (settlement, hamlet, community) is in itself not derogatory, yet later came to be called dowa chiku (integration area), as in the 1969 integration legislation. This in turn soon took on discriminatory overtones, and of course a term that suggests an area for integration already implies a lack of integration - anathema to the myth of homogeneity. In the title of the revised legislation in 1982, the goal of integration was replaced by the nebulous 'regional improvement' (chiiki kaizen). 'They simply wanted to conceal the fact that the law directly concerns the buraku issue' (Murakoshi 1985).

Although Burakumin appears indirect and euphemistic, it cannot shed its discriminatory associations, and so voicing this name in genteel discourse is considered highly embarrassing. As outsiders within, Burakumin are not supposed to be found in a society that purports to be inclusive, a nation of homogeneous insiders: their very being shatters the myth. Notions of impurity that still cling to this grouping in the dominant culture make it doubly embarrassing to talk of them: an impure other that is not supposed to exist, and yet whose existence is paradoxically created by notions of homogeneity and purity. Thus Burakumin rarely feature in public communication, and are rarely the subject of media representation.[7] As a spectral other they shadow mainstream selves, enabling 'us' to bathe in the pure light that casts 'them' in the dark. They are thus rendered invisible, as well as shrouded in silence.

All of this might make Burakumin appear passive and resigned, which they are not. Burakumin groups are active in struggling to improve social and material conditions, in combating discriminatory practices and attitudes, and in proposing new legislation (Neary 1988). Objections are publicly voiced, and the power to demonstrate discriminatory views reinforces the reticence in official discourse to broach the subject of Burakumin, and may ironically increase their media invisibility.[8]

This is also the case for Korean residents in Japan, estimated to number 700,000 (Sabouret 1994: p. 147); but the greater public visibility of Korean residents, where Korean names may be used and Korean ethnicity is celebrated in such matters as dress and cuisine, means that they are less readily ignored. Nonetheless there is reticence about mentioning Korean residents, and representations in the media remain infrequent.[9]

Apart from the potential of protest at discriminatory treatment, and the embarrassment of acknowledging a racialised grouping amongst the supposedly homogeneous inhabitants of Japan, Korean residents pose a further problem for mainstream discourse: how are they to be designated? In addition to derogatory terms, there are appellations acknowledged to be 'correct', but these are themselves divers, reflecting social divisions within the Korean community. A term that would be acceptable to some Korean residents would be anathema to others: it is practically impossible to find an expression that avoids alienating a substantial proportion of those supposedly identified, and protest can be expected to ensue.[10] Before the Korean war the term Chôsenjin was used to refer to Koreans (the context making it clear that it meant Koreans resident in Japan), but since the Korean war this term tends to be assumed to refer only to those with allegiance to North Korea. A further complication is that allegiance is distinct from origins: although origins might be in South Korea, allegiance could be to North Korea. A new expression Kankokujin has been used since the Korean war to refer to those with an allegiance to South Korea. Although this term carries no sense of discrimination in itself, it is potentially divisive and would be rejected by those who have allegiance to North Korea. The bureaucratic solution (as witnessed for example when NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation, has to refer to Korean residents) is to put both terms together: Kankoku-Chôsenjin, or more precisely Zainichi Kankoku-Chôsenjin (zainichi referring to residence in Japan). Yet, as so often, the bureaucratic solution, careful to avoid offence, is to employ an expression so unwieldy that it is unlikely to be used in everyday parlance. Furthermore a division is built into the designation itself - the division between allegiance to North and South Korea. The term is thus a clumsy compromise that neither satisfies those whom it purports to identify nor gains wide usage amongst the mainstream. As a result, reference is commonly eschewed.

The growth of freshly fashioned terms, which may be so cumbersome as to encourage silence, is part of an inflationary process that attempts to avoid offensive reference by developing ever more guarded euphemisms.

Inflation of Euphemisms

Where subjects cannot be avoided, and where there is a demand for euphemisms, the existing supply may be insufficient to cover the distasteful with requisite decency: it becomes necessary to coin further and further euphemisms in an inflationary way.[11]

The demand for euphemisms, in the absence of any controls on the supply (as by official regulation in France limiting the use of imported words), in itself leads to inflation of euphemisms: they grow and grow. Japan manifests just the combination of high demand and few controls that leads to inflationary pressures on euphemisms. This throws doubt on claims that euphemising is a 'peculiarly American habit' (Hughes 1994: p. 22).

High demand for euphemisms in Japanese society stems from those features already noted: a high value on politeness and indirect language, a progressive modernist ideology that claims non-discriminatory incorporation of constituent groups (where these are recognised), and the power of certain discriminated groups to protest. These factors are complicated by the tatemae (official view) of harmonious homogeneity, which eschews direct reference to outsiders within, at least in any way that might suggest discrimination or imply or induce conflict.

In contrast to coarse insults that are characterised by abbreviation,[12] euphemising tends to lengthen the term, particularly in bureaucratic terminology. The inflation of euphemisms in Japan is especially apparent in reference to disabled people. Whilst lesbians and gay men may be ignored or freely maligned, and difficulty of referring to Korean residents or Burakumin leads to clumsy appellations or silence, disabled people are subject to lengthy redefinitions.[13]

As already seen, long clumsy euphemisms are restricted in usage. They thereby retain their value as euphemisms for the experts or official bodies that use them: their coating is used up less rapidly. Extended euphemisms can last for an extended period: a euphemism that is inflated in size is less subject to the inflationary process that requires perpetual replacement. The inflation has already gone into the length of the expression, and so does not give rise to such frequent substitution. Yet the experts who use inflated[14] euphemisms are often those who are most anxious to use the right term, and this concern can manifest itself in a constant upgrading of euphemisms.

Euphemistic references to people periodically need upgrading as they take on derogatory connotations that reveal discriminatory attitudes.[15] Old people became elderly and have now become older. As euphemisms grow in currency, either amongst experts concerned about linguistic probity, or through extension into everyday language, the veneer wears thin through use and the disdainful preconceptions show through. New coating must be applied, yet covering up the problem means that, as in the case of Burakumin, terms again 'become pejorative once they gain general usage' (De Vos and Wagatsuma 1967: p. 5). The expressions begin to designate too directly, and so they in turn need to be replaced by further cultivated euphemisms that regain the value that comes with distance.

Both respect and revulsion require distance: tabooed subjects, whether sacred or polluted, must not be readily approached. Chilton sees euphemisms as dealing with the three common taboos of death, sex and the sacred. He cites Tyler as pointing out 'that sacred names are taboo and get replaced by definite descriptions that focus on particular attributes', and provides a parallel account of the replacement of military euphemisms for death and killing: 'we should expect the military term collateral damage to eventually need replacing.' (Chilton 1987: p. 13)[16] Death evokes reverence and abhorrence, and appropriate euphemisms. As in English, where the dead may be deemed to 'pass away', respectful Japanese speech refers to dying as naku naru, that can be read as 'become non-existent', though the association with death may be established in writing through the use of the appropriate kanji. The recently dead are regarded in Japan as powerfully sacred and polluting, and are given new personal names.

Sacred and polluting beings may thus require circuitous identification to avoid naming the other too directly. Just as royalty demands exclusive, elaborate and estranged forms of address, so does deity.[17] Naming the other thus requires appropriate distance to be maintained. There are barriers to pronouncing awful words and words of awe: they may fail to express sufficient distance, bringing the namer too close to the level of the named. The name itself may take on the character of the unapproachable, so that voicing it becomes taboo. Where the distancing capacity of a name is eroded, a new more indirect expression becomes necessary. Terms of uplifting intent, such as worshipful names, along with euphemisms whose pretensions to elevate the disdained tend rather to elevate the speaker, are thus subject to further upgrading. In the case of the exalted, distance must be maintained by the coining of new expressions that wrap away in an unreachable sacred sphere (just as Shinto shrines wrap 'their most sacred area with several layers of space', Hendry 1993: p. 109). This is a mirror image of wrapping away the untouchable polluted sphere of the demeaned. In both cases an inflationary process can be traced: terms gradually lose their indirectness, their wrapping, and become too brazen in reference, requiring revision to maintain the necessary respectful distance or veiled contempt.

Expertly wrapped terms appear to avoid subjectivity, while their opponents criticise the wrapping for introducing obscurity and demand a direct reference to supposedly essential qualities without the evaluative accretions. Thus Dominic Lawson, editor of The Spectator, argues for 'describing the world as it is' and objects to the loss of terms such as 'queer' and 'poofter' and to having to use 'terms which obscure' such as 'gay' (BBC 1994). Both sides decry the subjectivity of opponents, and claim, with expertise or common-sense, to be (professionally or plainly) objective. The mistake here is in searching for linguistic objectivity and value-neutral terms for hotly contested subjects. Cameron defines euphemism as a term used 'to avoid or soften the negative associations of words that deal directly with taboo subjects' (1995: p. 73). We might add that words come to be seen as direct, so that what may have started as euphemisms become seen as too direct or even as dysphemisms, flaunting the negative connotations (1995: p. 73). This process, whereby euphemisms come to designate too directly, is what fuels the inflation of euphemisms. We should not expect, therefore, to find a simple, plain and value-neutral term behind the euphemism, but rather euphemisms (or ex-euphemisms) behind euphemisms. Just as in a Goffmanian world of masks behind masks there can be no presupposition of a 'real self' lying behind the ultimate façade, so we cannot assume that stripping away a series of euphemisms will get us back to plain uncontroversial language.

The development of euphemisms is a contested pursuit. The inflationary process may be kindled by contending euphemisms, where each claims more delicate (often couched as accurate) description.[18] Furthermore such inflation dismays the guardians of linguistic purity and privilege, who wish to preserve the right to malign, under the guise of a freedom of speech where access (to publicity and legitimacy) is unequal. Conservatives thus object to language becoming political, as if it were not already a realm of power.

Contested Euphemisms and Political Correctness

Disputes about euphemisms and linguistic rectitude are power struggles. The power of names to patronise, abuse and dispose of the other, to put (in pretension) up, down or away, is not their only power. Names not only grant to the namer the power of definition and the status of the elevated self that oversees the designated other; they also grant to experts the power and status of being legitimate classifiers, who 'classify themselves (in the eyes of others) ... through distinctive objects or practices in which their "powers" are expressed' (Bourdieu 1986: p. 482). Such legitimacy is not always above dispute. Other experts, or lay 'plain-speakers', may challenge a claim to authority, by drawing on an alternative model of expertise or on the weighty realism of 'common-sense'.[19]

Even euphemisms whose legitimacy rests on discredited authorities may retain some efficacy. 'Ethnic cleansing', echoing Nazi notions of racial defilement, bears the legacy of disputed and disreputed euphemisms for genocide, and is nevertheless deployed by those who aim to convince self and others that murderous practices are rooted in respect for ethnicity and the authority of hygiene. The use of 'ethnic cleansing' for 'rhetorical mitigation' (van Dijk 1994: p. 5) by the Bosnian Serbs was widely publicised as despicable, indeed as adding to the horror of genocide through its very attempt to cloak it in rationalisation: killing is doubly denounced if devised within an ideology of racial purity, that recalls the systematic extermination of carefully classified kinds of human being. However, by the very fact of referring to this euphemism to decry those who have advanced its currency, its use becomes confirmed in place of more direct reference to genocide. It is debatable whether the Bosnian Serbs who promoted the expression can be said to have won the euphemism battle (having their euphemism in 'accepted' use in news reports) or to have lost, as the linguistic sanitising backfired and continues to act as a reminder of obscene objectives.

Disputes over the claims to rectitude posited by the use of a euphemism may extend to lay objections to expert labelling. The inflation of euphemisms, itself fired by striving expertise, may lead to terms that are deemed clumsy and cumbersome, fussy, fastidious and finicky. This is supposedly the source of objections to 'political correctness'.

'Politically correct' began as an epithet used in irony and self-criticism by radical groups, mocking their own tendencies to a sanctimonious use of language - 'a joke at their own expense' (Cameron 1994: p. 19). However the joke, compounded with the accusation of lacking a sense of humour, has been taken over by right-wing critics as further ammunition in their attempt to portray the left as anti-establishment extremists and dreary spoil-sports, whose linguistic lunacies must be condemned as bad and mad, just as in the 1980s the Tory press in Britain had decried certain local government attempts at anti-discrimination as 'loony left' (Hall 1994: p. 173).

It is important to distinguish between linguistic rectitude as a stance, whether of left or right, and 'political correctness' as a term of abuse. The latter portrays radicals who mess with language as both silly and dangerous, like unruly children playing with something precious that can easily be broken. Their use of language is ridiculed, and at the same time an earnest plea is made for a return to older linguistic values and virtues (whilst denying the inherently evaluative and political nature of words) in order to save the language and what it stands for. This reflects a na´ve view of language as plainly and neutrally denoting, unchanged by time and context (Cameron 1994: p. 28).

In developing 'political correctness' into a term of abuse, conservatives paradoxically put forward their own version of political correctness, the linguistic rectitude of the right - political rightness. It is established usage, establishment categorisation, that the right wishes to defend, shying away from reflection on the political nature of language, which those who are castigated as politically correct are correctly concerned to demonstrate. Where 'the whole culture works so as to render ... social antagonisms politically invisible', there will be resentment at 'the breaking of collusive silences' (Hall 1994: p. 179).

It is interesting that the invisibility and silence that operate in Japan are here claimed to function similarly in Britain. In each case it is the establishment that is most concerned with linguistic rectitude, and that at times uses supposed fears of employing the 'wrong' terms as a justification for avoiding reference to those who might elicit embarrassment. In Japan a concern for verbal propriety has not given rise to accusations of political correctness, partly because attention would be drawn to the social antagonisms that are belied by the dominant myth of homogeneity and harmony. Instead, groups with the power to lodge successful terminological objections are most commonly met with the powerful weapon of silence, or at best accorded a new expert euphemism.

In Anglo-American discourse, the charge of political correctness is not necessarily an objection to euphemism. Indeed traditionalists may be resisting the loss of a euphemism that is being challenged as implicitly discriminatory. Dominant groups may wish to preserve the right to euphemise in a traditionally patronising manner, as in referring to 'cleaning ladies'.

Most commonly, however, accusations of political correctness come from those who wish to maintain the privilege to abuse freely in terms that they claim are directly denotative. A defence is mounted for the preservation of established terms of abuse, whose derogatory connotations are concealed beneath an appeal to straight-talking, plain speech and common sense. Those who wish to amend the discriminatory language are themselves abused in terms such as 'mealy-mouthed', 'namby-pamby', 'wimpish' or 'wet',[20] that imply lack of straightforwardness, strength and courage (and, significantly, masculinity), as if we all know the truth, but some do not have the guts (or balls) to speak it. The expressions used here suggest the special threat posed by those who object to sexist and heterosexist language.

Amongst those whose terminology is scorned as politically correct, feminists, lesbians and gay men appear to receive the most opprobrium. As noted earlier, some groupings are considered valid targets, deserving disparagement. There is a range of legitimacy in reviling discriminated groups: political rightness sets up gradations of acceptable depreciation. In Britain and America it may be less right and proper to disparage disabled people and ethnic and racialised groupings, and more legitimate to malign groups that are marginalised in terms of gender and sexuality. As in Japan, there is still widespread acceptability of the use of derogatory terms for homosexuals. It is noteworthy that in the recent BBC Radio debate on political correctness, there was no challenge to the right's use of abusive terminology for gays (BBC 1994). The desire to be free to use dominant definitions without (or despite) complaint is often presented as a defence of free speech. 'They talk of free speech as an absolute, even as they deny the legitimacy of other people's ways of speaking' (Cameron 1994: p. 32).

The express delegitimation of alternative ways of naming, by accusing those who re-name as suffering from political correctness, reflects the threat to dominant definitions. The mainstream is disturbed by marginalised people gaining the power to resist and challenge established terms of abuse and patronising euphemisms. Under the guise of objecting to clumsy, indirect and euphemistic expressions, dominant designations are defended. Thus the political correctness dispute indicates that the power of self-definition by others is causing anxiety in the mainstream.

Other Definitions of Self

Although naming the other has so far been seen principally in terms of the imposition or denial of names, the other must not be seen as powerless in and by definition. Moreover the power of the other is not limited to upsetting the mainstream, to the creation of disquiet, that increases pressure to euphemise or makes it too troublesome to make any reference, or that invokes hostile accusations of linguistic corruption and political correctness. Victims of discrimination, condescension and abuse must not be considered passive. The other is active in defining self. Amongst the various possible reactions to dominant designation, only one would be a resigned acceptance of an imposed name. This would mean defining self in the dominant others' terms, seeing self as defined by others as Other, becoming the maligned.

Yet this is not the only way in which dominant definitions may be taken over. An alternative is to take them over with pride. This means the appropriation of mainstream designations, but with a reversal of evaluation. The name is worn defiantly, reclaiming for oneself the power of naming and appraisal. Depreciation is challenged: deliberate designation replaces the assumption of a slur. Perhaps the most striking example of this is the proud use of 'black', that achieved long-term success not only in terms of positive self-definition but in altering dominant usage. Another attempt at redefinitional appropriation is the defiant wearing of the pink triangle, that was an official badge of homosexuality in the Nazi concentration camps. Wearing a label with pride is not of course the same as welcoming its use by the mainstream: the pink triangle retains its signification of a stigmatised group, and indeed draws attention to the stigmatising process and the solidarity of those who continue to suffer discrimination. It proudly marks out those who would still be marked out in mainstream dismissal.

Some labels are more difficult to reclaim, more painful to proclaim. It is debatable whether recent attempts by some lesbian and gay groups at positive redefinition of the word 'queer' will be successful in the reappraisal of marginalised sexualities. For most of the mainstream, and some lesbians and gay men, 'queer' retains its potently contemptuous connotations of anomaly and perversion. It may be hard work to convince self and others that it is to be proclaimed with pride. Moreover, its very value, in blurring the edges of belonging in the category of other sexuality, means that the boundaries of self-definition in clearer and narrower terms are skipped, raising objections from those (for example, Jeffreys 1994: p. 469) who wish to defend a more precisely distinguished identity. Other abusive definitions of marginal groupings may face even more of an uphill struggle of repair and reconstruction. The attempt in 1922 by the Suiheisha (Levellers Association), a Burakumin liberation movement, to declare the name eta with pride (Hane 1982: p. 161) was practically doomed to failure, given the term's built-in reference to pollution.

A further option in identification is to define self in terms that escape the framework set as other by the mainstream. Here names are invented, or borrowed from a realm beyond mainstream derogation. Developing new names often means taking a common word, with currently positive connotations, and using it to refer to self. A good example of this process, and of the difficulties it faces, is the adoption of 'gay'. This had to face at least three forms of opposition from the mainstream. Firstly, there is objection to others appropriating and spoiling a word:[21] the language is seen as becoming deprived and, by implication, depraved. This objection was never made to the mainstream use of 'queer', and recalls current complaints that censure favourable appellations as 'politically correct'. Secondly, there may be refusal to adopt the new name, and instead continued use of established terms of abuse. Thirdly, the new designation may be employed, whilst giving it negative connotations from the context of its usage, or by putting it in quotation marks, marking inversion through inverted commas, that attempt to belie the positive connotations of the coining.

Of course not all new names are developed with the intention of mainstream conversion. Rather the aim may be simply to escape dominant definitions, and to develop positive appellations for mutual recognition of ourselves by ourselves. Renaming may thus be in the form of highly coded self-reference, that has the function of coding away one's identity from those who are not in the know. Indeed 'gay' was used in this way before its incorporation in an emancipatory movement. The secrecy essential for many lesbians and gay men has left a whole history of coded names - from esoterically encoded but generally inclusive terms for mutual recognition, such as the gay 'friends of Dorothy' (Lucas 1994: p. 92), to names devised for particular lesbian identities or organisations, such as Zami or DOB: Daughters of Bilitis (King 1992: pp. 55 and 67). More simply, reference might be to 'us', as in 'one of us', a mirror image to 'one of them' as conceived by the mainstream. This kind of contextual reference is a simple way of avoiding explicit naming, while expressing solidarity: in Japan, Korean residents use the term dôhô (compatriots) as an insider term, that has the advantage of brevity in contrast to the unwieldy terms noted earlier.

Japanese language affords more than just the indirectness that enables implicit and contextual reference. The complexity of sources and written forms provides multiple opportunities for renaming, coding away and setting apart. For lesbians and gay men, this may mean borrowing English terms, written in the katakana script that sets apart foreign-derived words. Alternatively, Western terms of sexual orientation may be rejected in favour of namelessness, coded acronyms, or simply initials in the Roman alphabet (Valentine 1997b: pp. 104 - 105).

A nameless other allows the mainstream to rest in indeterminate dominance. In contrast, where recognisable terms are chosen to proclaim identity on the margins, dominant self-images may be rendered explicit in opposition to identifications of the other. The widespread use of 'gay' requires an opposite, so that 'straight' becomes increasingly identified with heterosexuality. Again it is significant that in this case complaints are not made concerning the spoiling of a word: heterosexuality cannot corrupt.

More radically, those conceived as other may go on the offensive, turning the tables and defining mainstream selves as other, alien and inferior, although there is insufficient power to make such labels stick. Yet for marginal currency, and for provocation beyond, disparagements, diminutives and abbreviations can be coined to rename the mainstream in terms such as honkies and hets (or complex critical concepts such as patriarchy and, for Rastafarians, Babylon), that sound less innocent and ordinary, less capable of the presumptions of common-sense, less redolent of the luxury of taking-for-granted one's natural centrality. At least such names may provoke a conscious self-defining response from those who repose as the anonymous authors of denomination.

Yet it is not just the wilful power of the other that upsets the implicit identifications of the mainstream. The very definition of others as other implies a self-conception, and where others are carefully renamed, for instance in an inflation of euphemisms, a reflected identification of mainstream selves may be required. Such mainstream naming places self in a favourable comparative light, whilst simultaneously denying the role of self in both the favouring and the comparison, as noted already in consideration of the classificatory power of experts. Yet often self, if explicitly labelled at all, retains its appellation through a whole series of terms for carefully subdivided and categorised others: the sane remain sane through the various reformulations of mental illness, whites stay white whether opposed to coloured, black or ethnic minorities,[22] and the normal preside over a succession of names for the subnormal and perverted. Ideally mainstream self-conception becomes normalised as naturalised. We thus return to a picture of definitional domination, that does not deny terminological struggle and the power of the other in the naming process, but recognises the imbalance of resources. It might be objected, however, that such talk of power struggles is overblown,[23] and that, as those who complain of political correctness would argue, too much fuss is being made about naming. What after all does it matter? What's in a name?

The Containment and Denial of Being

In a name there is definition and evaluation, comparison and contrast, limitation and containment. 'Any name is a container; poured into it are the conscious and unwitting evaluations of the namer' (Strauss 1997: p. 17). Names have the power to contain and deny being. They can confine it within definitional limitations that make it difficult to conceive of an identity outside the container. Where bound up with contemptuous connotations, containment is especially damaging.

Effective containment does not depend upon veracity. A name may be an utter fabrication, constructed out of falsehoods, and yet be a potent source of discriminatory identification and practice. As in the case of the eta and hinin of pre-Meiji Japan, pollution and non-humanity lie in the eyes of the beholder.

Even where we select our own names, the restriction may be felt. Jarman, who was not reticent in fighting battles against 'Heterosoc' in making his 'Queer films' (1993: p. 85), finds the adoption and use of words like queer both a liberation and a limitation. 'These names - gay, queer, homosexual are limiting. I would love to finish with them. We're going to have to decide which terms to use and where we use them.' (1993: p. 30) Those who are marginalised may be cornered into adopting an identity conceived in opposition to the mainstream, whose self-conception can afford to be less focused than the pivotal (ironically central) self-conception furnished by marginality.[24]

If calling ourselves names entails the limitations of identification, further restrictions follow defamation by others. Negative names applied with definitional and evaluative authority can evoke lasting damage. Slurs may act as a strategy of containment or 'negation through naming' that effaces the subject (Nakagawa 1990: p. 23). Terms of abuse indeed constitute abuse as real as any other. They can 'spoil' an identity as effectively as any bodily stigma (Goffman 1968: pp. 11 - 15).

It may be thought that euphemisms avoid such derogatory containment, at least until their wrapping wears thin and the discriminatory preconceptions show through. When properly packaged, are not euphemistic references kinder, softer, or at least more polite? Yet naming often says less of the named and more of the namer, not just their view of the world and themselves, but also their presumptions of connoisseurship, of knowing what to say, of good taste and classificatory expertise. Thus patronising euphemisms reveal the status claims of those who deign to name, and some euphemisms are from the outset derogatory in a delicate and subtle way that demonstrates good taste. This is 'kindness' out of consideration for one's own name, a superficial softness and polite packaging that wraps up the embarrassing and distasteful in a manner designed to avoid giving direct offence. 'Inoffensive' references may thus be used to contain possible threats: 'those less fortunate than ourselves' (including for example 'our coloured friends') could not possibly object to our careful discernment: they remain unmistakably other, but our responsible references deny all responsibility for their predicament. Furthermore, beyond the polite packaging of the prestigious, the euphemisms of the expert can contain in a harder 'scientific' manner: here naming the other manages the problem scientifically, containing the threat of the unfitting by fitting them into alien categories.

Yet euphemisms do not merely package and contain: they may also neglect and deny. In their proliferation of wrapping - and expert wrapping is often the most clumsy - euphemisms play a part in exacerbating the invisibility of marginal groups. It is not just overtly discriminatory words that are eschewed: any direct reference is avoided. The price of indirectness may be a vague allusion that attains specificity only in particular contexts. Thus the BBC often flags gay artists and writers through the use of the epithet 'controversial'. Here direct designation is denied, while a warning is issued that dangerous margins are being approached.

Euphemisms thus hinder the open and direct discussion of certain people, through muted intimations, or through tortuous terminology that makes naming unwieldy. An identity may be wrapped in such an inflated euphemism that it is difficult to refer to it at all. Hence many marginal groups themselves show a preference for shorter, plainer, less cumbersome names, that confer recognition and pride.[25]

Where the available euphemisms are unacceptably awkward, or where the wrapping can never be thick enough to distance and disguise, reference becomes impossible, which effectively maintains the hidden quality of certain groups. Hence they may find it difficult to come to public awareness as a group that suffers discrimination. While open discrimination is discouraged, it is nonetheless effected implicitly. Both hiding and passing are fostered: the unremarked remains unrecognised. Furthermore, the unmentionable can become the unthinkable. Thus at the extreme you are beneath contempt because beneath mention: you can only be despised if you are recognised. Maximum indirectness is lack of reference at all: silence becomes the ultimate euphemism, and identity is denied. The unmentionable for practical purposes ceases to exist.

The effectiveness of naming, euphemising and muting depends upon power. The power of groups to resist, subvert or escape naming must be recognised, but in a society with an imbalance of resources and a powerful centre the free fragmentary visions of postmodernism appear somewhat wishful and wistful. While the naming of some carries prestige and authority, others are denied the right to exist in their own terms.

The destructive power of naming endures. Defamation may constitute abuse. Euphemising can wrap up and away: good taste and delicacy can be lethal, as Weber showed in the power of stylisation to exclude others from sharing in the privileges of a status group (1968: pp. 935 - 936). Petty, pretty or pretentious names can have powerful consequences. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names can wrap us up with sticky labels that give us a permanent address on the other side of the tracks.


Throughout this paper, the Japanese macron accent, indicating a long vowel, has been represented by the circumflex, as HTML does not support the macron correctly.

1Harré and Van Langenhove note that in any discursive practice each positions the other and self simultaneously: positioning constitutes the self and the others (1991: p. 398). However they draw too sharp a distinction between personal and social identity: here, and in Harré's more extended discussion (Harré 1998), much is made of the grammatical use of the first person singular, thus neglecting the extent to which we (first person plural) identify ourselves with as well as against others. In Japanese this becomes even clearer, through the contextual usage of uchi to 'signify the individual "I" as well as the collective "we"' (Bachnik 1994: p. 27). Through contributing to our understanding of identification that ranges beyond the individual, analysis of Japanese interaction has, as so often, implications beyond the confines of any particular society (Valentine 1997a: p. 112 - 113).

2Driedger (1991: p. 7) points out that, until women with disabilities became named as a group, their specific concerns went unrecognised in both women's and disabled persons' communities in Canada.

3'The imposition of a recognized name is an act of recognition of full social existence which transmutes the thing named... The fate of groups is bound up with the words that designate them: the power to impose recognition depends on the capacity to mobilize around a name' (Bourdieu 1986: pp. 480 - 481).

4In 1996 a Japan Foundation Fellowship enabled me to conduct 7 months research in Japan on representations of marginality. A difficulty in conducting interviews on this topic was the predominant reticence in naming certain marginal groups.

5The relational perspective of self and other is emphasised by Bachnik (1998: p. 97), who further specifies how the person is defined in Japanese discourse often without reference to terminology. Kondo (1990: p. 29) similarly notes the contextual definition of Japanese selves: 'the plethora of available "I's" throws into relief the multiple ways people present themselves and their identities in particular situations. You are not an "I" untouched by context, rather you are defined by the context.'

6This view of the stigmatised as non-human is not restricted to Japan: Goffman (1968: p. 15) notes that 'we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human.'

7During the seven months research on the portrayal of marginal people on Japanese television, July 1996 to January 1997, I found no representation of Burakumin. It is also noteworthy that neither the directly abusive eta nor the more euphemistic Burakumin appears in the most well-known Japanese-English dictionary, published by Kenkyûsha. The silence on Burakumin is eloquent.

8In Japanese newspapers, reporting of Burakumin issues is rare, partly through fear. 'It's because they have, consciously or unconsciously, a discriminatory way of thinking that they use discriminatory terms and are afraid of possible repercussions. And because they are afraid, every newspaper editor has on his desk a couple of volumes listing discriminatory expressions - to prevent themselves becoming victims of their own discriminatory thinking.' (Murakoshi 1985)

9While entertainers or sports personalities may be known to be Korean, representation in dramas and documentaries is still rare. Significantly, the few television programmes that portray Korean residents tend to focus on problems of naming, in particular the dilemma of whether to 'pass' with a Japanese name or to 'come out' by identifying oneself with one's Korean name (Valentine 1997d: p. 9). This media representation of a simple dilemma masks a multiplicity of choice in a variety of contexts, including, as noted by Maher and Kawanishi, the switching of names according to the person with whom one is communicating (1995: p. 170). Instead of identificational difficulty, it can be argued that 'the very complexity of reading and writing Japanese names is an advantage for the purposes of identification' (Ogawa 1992: p. 34), allowing names to be adapted for different purposes and social contexts. In the case of Korean residents (who may also have Japanese names), their Korean names can be written in Chinese-derived characters (kanji) that may be read in either Korean or Japanese ways. The supposed quandary of multiple names may be seen as an opportunity rather than a problem.

10A common problem in the identification of minority ethnic groups is finding an appellation that is appropriately inclusive and exclusive. For example, Modood (1994: p. 867) argues that to use 'black' to include British Asians marginalises their distinctive concerns. Similarly Jeffreys (1994: p. 471) contends that 'queer', in subsuming lesbians, makes them disappear.

11In contrast to the inflation of euphemisms, which cover with further layers of decency, critical concepts which aim to expose may undergo an inflation of meaning, to include and indict a wider range of beliefs and practices, as in extended charges of sexism and racism. Miles (1989: p. 41) refers to this as 'conceptual inflation'.

12For example rezu (les/lezzie) is, like its English equivalent, a derogatory abbreviation for the more formal term rezubian (lesbian). Similarly, Senjin is an insulting contraction of Chôsenjin (Korean person), just as in English Jap is used to belittle Japanese.

13For example, deaf people become characterised through a discourse of disability couched in lengthy euphemisms (Valentine 1998). In English, certain types of disability came to be indicated by the euphemistic language of 'special needs' (Valentine and Taylor 1995), paralleling Japanese use of 'special' to refer to a grouping formerly conceived as sub-human.

14The inflation of euphemisms suggests not only inflated length or currency, but also expressions that are puffed up and full of hot air.

15It is not only euphemisms that, in gaining currency, begin to manifest prevailing social discrimination. Non-euphemistic attempts to reform discriminatory language may be undermined by the persistent 'linguistic encoding of social distinctions that are clearly of ideological importance to the speech community', as in the use of supposedly nonsexist terms 'like chairperson to designate female referents' (Ehrlich and King 1994: p. 64).

16Euphemisms for war and military action are legion. There may be reticence about recognising civil war as more than persistent 'troubles', and military intervention commonly goes under the guise of 'peace-keeping'.

17Heinrich Böll (1958) satirises such inflated forms in his story Doktor Murkes gesammeltes Schweigen, where direct references to God in a radio broadcast are replaced by 'jenes höhere Wesen, das wir verehren' (that higher being whom we revere). Like euphemisms for the disdained, names for the deity may require periodic upgrading to maintain distance, as is witnessed in Hebrew names for God, which undergo recurrent revision or substitution, aided by the alternative ways of reading and writing offered by Hebrew - a parallel here to Japanese. Yahweh, a common name for God, became too sacred to pronounce, and barriers to vocalisation were reinforced by its being written with the vowel sounds of another name for God, Eloha. This name, in its plural version as Elohim, became intentionally misread as Elokim; and the more indirect appellation Adonai (my Lord), was altered to Adonam (their Lord) in a further distancing process. In addition, more oblique descriptions may be used to refer to God, such as Hashem Hameforash (The Explicit Name): here one is able to speak of a name without naming directly.

18This is not to deny that delicacy may not be the only motivation for the development of expert terminology: developed terms may place more emphasis on other criteria of classification, looking at the phenomenon from a different angle (Cameron 1995: p. 147), at the same time as euphemistically avoiding what has come to be seen as too direct and indelicate a reference.

19For example, Taylor (1999) shows how resistant readings by tenants unwrap the manipulative discourse of authorities who seek to encourage passivity in the face of supposed 'voluntary' transfers of public housing stock.

20'Wimps' and 'wets' are associated with loss of masculinity, while 'new men' are derided as 'half-men' by traditionalists, such as Brown (1994). 'Wet' has an interesting recent history as a term of abuse. As a British political epithet, it was adopted by Thatcherite Tories, with memories of Public School slang, to refer to the 'left' of their party, suggesting they were soft, not 'man' enough. In contrast, self (mainstream in the party at that time) was defined as dry, a term without negative connotations but (as with many mainstream self-references) not widely used except in contrast to the other (wets). As a derogatory term, 'wets' had the advantage of putting down those out of favour with the dominant faction, whilst avoiding terms such as left, which would have indicated genuine differences on matters of policy and principle, and would have sounded too oppositional and confrontational (admitting to fundamental divisions), rather than dismissive and dismissable as ineffectively weak - as wet in contrast to the dry connotations of toughness and strength. Those designated wet have had little choice but to take up this term in positive self-definition, attempting to reverse its evaluation.

21In the UK House of Lords debate on the age of consent (22.7.1998), Lord Jakobovits misconstrued 'gay' as a euphemism, and objected to this as an abuse of language. 'Public opinion is being manipulated by insistent use or misuse of euphemisms. One speaks about "gays". I like to think of myself as a gay fellow. I enjoy gayness. I object to others appropriating that term.' It is significant that he objects to others appropriating a positive designation, and that he is not concerned to defend 'others' and the language from abuse by the adoption of hurtful and discriminatory terms.

22Note for example the way in which the most recent British Census (1991) and ethnic monitoring procedures (Gelsthorpe 1993: p. 79) develop careful subdivisions of those who are marginalised, while the mainstream is left with an overriding and undivided complacent category of 'white'. Only recently have sociologists begun to discuss the social construction of whiteness (for example, Frankenberg 1993; Dyer 1997).

23As Dyer (1992: p. 163) notes: 'Struggles over words can often seem trivial.' Yet exposing associations and objecting to terms can change habits of thought and make political connections: 'Words struggles often have a wider resonance.' Eitzen and Zinn (1989: pp. 369 - 370) similarly argue that changing gender-marked names that render women invisible or trivial is not itself a trivial matter: 'Renaming gives women a sense of control of their own identity and raises consciousness within their group and that of those in power.'

24'White people, heterosexuals, the able-bodied, do not generally go around worrying over what to call themselves and have themselves called. Having a word for oneself and one's group, making a politics out of what that word should be, draws attention to and also reproduces one's marginality, confirms one's place outside of power and thus outside of the mechanisms of change. Having a word also contains and fixes identity... We will always feel frustrated by having to have words to express our social identity, even while that social identity means that we do indeed have to have words for it.' (Dyer 1993: pp. 8 - 9)

25For example, Lane notes that this is the case for various disability groups, and for Deaf culture (1995: p. 181).


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