euphemism treadmill, linguistic renaissance and ‘woke’


euphemism treadmill

Frequently, over time, euphemisms themselves become taboo words, through the linguistic process of semantic change known as pejoration, which University of Oregon linguist Sharon Henderson Taylor dubbed the “euphemism cycle” in 1974, also frequently referred to as the “euphemism treadmill”.


Linguistic renaissance

Every generation, even decade, finds their own words and definitions

<about 1,000 words get added to dictionary every year and less get deleted every year>


Other then ‘cancel culture’, ‘woke’ is possibly the most annoying idea bantered about these days. And while ‘woke’ comes to life in so many ways during some incredibly vapid discussions that your head will spin, the majority of the time it revolves around words and the use of words.


Think about this: It is estimated that there are over 500,000 words in the English language, but the average person’s vocabulary is only between 2000 and 6000 words. This means we use less than 2% of our language.

And while I would guess that within that 2%, in general, we under use the really good words, do not use enough inspiring words, and hold on to the 2% we do use with ragged claws. This is where the euphemistic treadmill rears its ugly head. A word caught on the euphemistic treadmill is one that replaced an offensive or pejorative term, but has itself become unfavorable.

“The more exposure you have to the written word the more literate you become and we tend to get better at things that we do for fun.”

Dr Beverley Plester,  Coventry University on texting

‘Woke’ fucks with people’s 2% – either directly or indirectly. Let me explain. Directly is exactly what it is. You use that word, it has been deemed offensive, and you like that word, so someone is fucking with how you talk <and how you think about things I imagine>. Indirectly is grounded in fear. You don’t use that word but it creates a fear that someday someone is coming for one of your 2%. To be clear. There is an entire industry of people invested in creating fear on “where does it stop.”

** note: ‘where does it stop’ is one of the silliest, stupidest, most banal arguments in existence. It stops when and where you choose to make it stop. Doing the right thing demands both doing and stopping.

Here is where I think the 2%’ers have lost the plot.

Maybe think of ‘woke’ terminology this way.

Yes. Teens use words <sometimes lots used in a nonstop fashion>.

Yes. Sometimes we old folk don’t recognize them as words <albeit we are infamous for making up our own buzzwords>.

Yes. If you get a bunch of older people together they will agree that today’s kids do not understand English, know how to write, are poor communicators and, in general, don’t know shit about grammar.

Yes. This is a silly petty discussion <hence my point on “woke’ words>.

pettiness, which, as the Oxford English dictionary explains, is “an undue concern with trivial matters, especially of a small-minded or spiteful nature.” Psychologists say that this behaviour from people who make mountains out of molehills stems from some unrelated insecurity or unhappiness.

I purposefully use petty because that describes the general attitude over woke words. When it comes to ‘woke’ I can almost guarantee you at some time, in some place, someone is, sometimes quite convincingly <or connivingly>, attempting to show that a real mountain is simply a molehill and a real molehill is actually a mountain. It almost seems like after a good, solid 500-year run, we have evolved from a society of readers to a society of stupid. The printing press launched the first intellectual revolution; the second one was launched by YouTube, twitter and 24-hour cable TV. Given the choice, people would rather view a 1-minute video, showing something out of context, than read for 2 minutes. What this revolution will spawn is lots of bad video, lots of useless content, and much much more idiotic battles over what is simply euphemistic treadmill activity, i.e., the natural evolution of words and meanings.

Personally I can tell you the reason why I don’t participate in a lot of Ted discussions anymore is because there tend to be a bunch of older people <supposedly the sharpest knives in the drawer because they were part of TED> that constantly bitch and moan about how young people are becoming increasing illiterate, we have become ‘too sensitive’ with regard to words, and in order to solve this crisis the solution is we need to go back to the basics <that is code for “the way we learned”>.

Suffice it to say I’d like to tell everyone that the treadmill goes on, euphemistic or any treadmill, and you better get on it.

Today’s youth is not illiterate nor are they destroying the English language nor are they devolving into some nondescript group of blithering nonthinking irresponsible idiots.

So, what’s happening? Maybe the problem is with us older folk.

Many people have this black-and-white view of language, that some things are always right and wrong, that’s not how it works.”

Katherine Barber, editor in chief Canadian Oxford Dictionary

I feel a need to point out that research says that ‘text speak’ <young people communicating in texts & shortened euphemisms>, rather than harming literacy, could have a positive effect on the way children interact with language. Researchers from Coventry University <published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology> studied children aged between 10 and 12 to understand the impact of text messaging on their language skills. They found that the use of so-called “textisms” could be having a positive impact on reading development.

Bottom line.

The study found no evidence of a detrimental effect of text speak on conventional spelling.

What we think of as misspellings, don’t really break the rules of language and children have a sophisticated understanding of the appropriate use of words.”

Coventry Researcher

Other reports have produced similar results. Research from the University of Toronto <researching how teenagers use instant messaging> found that instant messaging had a positive effect on their command of language. Two University of Toronto researchers who studied teen text messaging say that not only is the medium not wrecking the English language, but may actually be encouraging what some people refer to as a ‘linguistic renaissance’ as teens re-learn and reshape the meaning of words.

“They demonstrate very clearly that their grammatical skills are intact, and they very effectively mix it with other types of language.”

Regardless. Young people are not destroying the English language and ‘wokeness’ is simply destroying that which every generation destroys – words that lose meaning.

Which circles me back to that euphemism treadmill.

Each generation puts their indelible stamp on the everyday language.

If we believe for one moment that someone in Shakespearean time wouldn’t look at us today after listening to two 50somethings talk, looking at us like we were crazy <possibly unsophisticated>, maybe even from a different planet, and ‘unwoke’ to their generation, we just haven’t thought about it well enough.

I would argue words aren’t getting destroyed but rather we are simply creating a new way of talking <for the better for the most part>.

Which leads me to technology.

A major purpose of social networking sites, and you have to imagine one of the reasons why it is all so popular, is that in many ways they fill our need for external validation.

The web can even make validation grow to levels we couldn’t even imagine 15 years ago … especially in the internet generation where fame <lets maybe call it ‘become more well-known than ever before’> is more achievable than ever.

*** note: I will note that this external validation thought can be used for good … or for bad>

Regardless. Language and words are part of that external validation.

The web has opened up a world in which instead of lurking in a shell wondering if we would ever find a greater self-validation than a close circle of acquaintances, we can now seek external validation among likeminded souls. And just as close face-to- face friends have them; external likeminded people have a similar language. Sometimes it is almost a code speak for an inner circle. And here is where words get shaped, reshaped, created and destroyed; and so the euphemism treadmill churns on and on.

This is where we reshape, and find, a new vocabulary to discuss the world within which we live.


While this is about words, in my own head there are 3 aspects. The thought. The articulation. The proof.

I imagine several really smart insightful people in every generation of every civilization have the smarts to have the thought <that reshapes our mindsets>.

At any time in history the thought is challenged or forwarded by how it is articulated <change words to match the new mindset narrative>.

And then proof varies depends on us, people, and how different segments react.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note that time is brutal on all past articulations and words. They get destroyed or re-translated by future generations. I say all that to suggest that there is no “woke” and there really isn’t any ‘cancel culture’ when it comes to words. We are just on the ever-present euphemism treadmill and maybe, just maybe, something in your 2% will end up on the treadmill. Ponder.

Written by Bruce