Quote of the Day: “People Insist on Using Euphemisms Such as ‘Flexible Employment,’ ‘[Workforce] Optimization,’ and ‘Delayed Employment’”

“It’s as if the words ‘layoffs’ and ‘unemployment’ are somehow disgraceful, so instead people insist on using euphemisms such as ‘flexible employment,’ ‘[workforce] optimization,’ ‘slow employment’ (also ‘delayed employment’), or even worse, ‘reintegrating talent back into society.’ Another example is stigmatizing certain types of behavior, which gives rise to euphemisms such as ‘malicious homecomings,’ ‘maliciously asking for unpaid wages,’ and ‘maliciously lying flat.’” [Chinese]

Today’s CDT quote of the day comes from a recent essay published by WeChat account 码头青年 (mǎtou qīngnián, “port youth”), about the ways in which various sorts of euphemisms have twisted the Chinese written language. The phrase “malicious homecomings” refers to a viral phrase from a Henan county magistrate in 2022, who promised quarantine and detention for anyone “maliciously” returning home for the Lunar New Year, sparking an explosion of proudly malicious comments and even poetry. The post from which today’s quote is taken begins by railing against this year’s trend of using wildly complex, archaic variant characters in Lunar New Year’s greetings. Last week CDT translated portions of a similarly themed post by another WeChat blogger who complained about using rare and complicated variant characters to communicate a fairly dull and standard Chinese New Year’s greeting:

龙行龘龘 lóng xíng dá dá

前程朤朤 qiánchéng lǎng lǎng

生活䲜䲜 shēnghuó yè yè

事业燚燚 shìyè yì yì

May the dragon soar—

Wishing you a bright future,

an abundant life,

and a blazingly successful career! [Source]

Matou Qingnian takes that argument a step further, noting that aside from dusting off “moldy old characters” to show off one’s erudition, some euphemisms act more perniciously to conceal important socio-economic or political problems:

Some netizens commented that this is a regression of Chinese language, a pollution of the use of language and writing, an act of cultural pretentiousness and aesthetic vulgarity. I wholeheartedly agree.

[…] As Chen Yuan, the father of Chinese sociolinguistics, wrote in his 1980s book “Language and Social Life”: “If in our daily lives, in our social lives, we encounter language that seems correct, but in fact conveys no linguistic information whatsoever, then what good is language? This is the kind of disastrous contamination we are now experiencing.” [Chinese]


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