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Sweet Talk

[ 2010-09-28 09:30]     字号 [] [] []  
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By Derwent May

莫琳梅 选注

Have you bought any chocolate digestives[1] lately? If you have been looking for plain chocolate[2] ones, rather than milk, you may have discovered that they are hard to find. What you will have found are dark chocolate digestives. “Plain” chocolate! Who could hope to sell such a thing in this day and age? “Dark” is what people want—biscuits full of mystery and romance.

We are living in a new age of euphemisms[3], all working of course, just as before, to persuade us that something is a little better than what it really is. A more sinister[4] one that has come into use lately is to be heard from firms trying to lend us money. What we are offered now is “flexible interest rates[5]”.

That “flexible” is quite subtle[6]. It really just means “variable”—but everyone knows that “variable interest rates” are almost bound to go up.[7] The phrase is a fairly honest warning that that might happen.

But “flexible”—that sounds like something quite different. We associate the word with people or proposals that are not rigid, that will bend a little to please us or accommodate us.[8] Who would not sooner have flexible rates than variable ones? But there is no difference.

Estate agents have always been notorious for their inventive euphemisms.[9] One much in use at the moment is “beautifully presented”, or even “superbly[10] presented”. “A beautifully presented, spacious Victorian house”[11] —what does it mean? Nothing. The only beautiful presentation is by the estate agent himself—and that is of no use when you find the house is a cheaply tarted-up[12] ruin.

In the poet D. J. Enright’s anthology of essays on euphemisms, wittily entitled Fair of Speech, David Pannick gives some examples of legal euphemisms used to seduce people.[13] Barristers are always called “counsel”, says Pannick, which suggests they are friends or confidants, not just professional lawyers.[14] Their fees after the first day are called “refreshers”—cleverly implying a physical need for what is merely another financial transaction.[15]

As Enright says in his introduction, euphemisms may be fair of speech, but they are often “foul of meaning and dishonest in intent”[16]. We can perhaps live without plain chocolate digestives—but all too often we still look in vain for plain speech.


1. chocolate digestive: 巧克力消化饼干。

2. plain chocolate: = dark chocolate,纯巧克力、黑巧克力,指不加牛奶的低糖巧克力,比加牛奶的巧克力更纯,味道更好。本文作者认为商家之所以更青睐“黑巧克力”而非“纯巧克力”这个名字,是因为“黑”字听上去更神秘、更富浪漫色彩。

3. euphemism: 委婉语,委婉的说法。

4. sinister: 阴险的,邪恶的。

5. flexible interest rate: 弹性利率。

6. subtle: 微妙的,难以捉摸的。

7. variable: 可变的;be bound to: 一定会。

8. rigid: 僵硬的,死板的;accommodate: 顺应,迎合。

9. estate agent: 房地产经纪人;notorious: 臭名昭著的;inventive: 富有创造力的。

10. superbly: 极好地。

11. 一幢外观漂亮、空间宽敞的维多利亚时代的房子。

12. tarted-up: 粉饰的,装饰的。

13. 诗人D. J. Enright邀请了16位著名的作家从不同方面对委婉语进行了深度剖析,并将研究结果集结成文集《说好听的话》(Fair of Speech),于1985年出版。anthology: (诗、文等的)选集;wittily: 诙谐地;seduce: 诱惑,哄骗。

14. barrister: (英格兰或威尔士可在高等法院出庭的)出庭律师,大律师;counsel: 辩护律师;confidant: 密友,知己。

15. 律师在第一天出庭之后的收费被委婉地称为“refresher”(字面意思是“恢复精力的事物”),看似为满足身体上的需要,实则不过是另一种收费。refresher: (因诉讼延长而补给律师的)额外诉讼费。律师第一天出庭的收费称为“辩护委聘费”(brief),以后每一次出庭的收费称为“额外诉讼费”,按日收取。

16. foul of meaning and dishonest in intent: 含义丑恶,意图不诚。