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A Grammatical Case of Euphemism (pass)

Every language has euphemisms, which are defined as “that figure of speech which consists in the substitution of a word or expression of comparatively favourable implication or less unpleasant associations, instead of the harsher or more offensive one that would more precisely designate what is intended” (Oxford English Dictionary Online). But this definition trades exclusively in terms of lexical substitution, whereas English, for instance, has at least one euphemism that is grammatical, specifically that of pass ‘to die’ instead of pass away (mainly in Black English, but now not exclusively). (Note, incidentally, that pass away is already a euphemism to begin with.)

This use of the verb pass without the postposition away can be seen as a grammatically achieved attenuation of the “harsh” or “offensive” meaning comported by the original construction with the postposition, and in that sense it fits the ontology of any euphemism by taking the sting out of the lexical unit being defanged.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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