TW: Mention of #suicide in relation to #suicideprevention.
I love language. I love it all, from accent to puns, colloquialisms to sesquipedalia.
I read Linguistics at university – essentially the science of language. I’m no expert, but language fascinates me no less. I love to write and I like to write about language, among other things. Its usage particularly interests me, since I find communication equally fascinating.
Euphemisms are common, certainly here in the UK where we do love a good euphemism.
We’ve so many euphemisms for death alone that someone’s probably published a book dedicated to them. But isn’t it all a bit Voldemort? As J.K. Rowling’s Dumbledore said, “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.”
I wrote recently about the question of whether language usage could impede suicide prevention. Listening to a GP speaking to a patient, during an episode of the current series of fly-on-the-wall medical documentary series GPs Behind Closed Doors, I was taken aback when I heard her ask,
“Have you started thinking about doing something silly?”
Silly is … clowning around; blowing raspberries; playing with water pistols; a whoopee cushion.
We need to talk about suicide. We REALLY need to talk about suicide – but do euphemisms help or hinder conversation? Statistics declaring suicide THE biggest killer of UK men under the age of 45 hit the headlines this week, thanks to Professor Green. That is not news to be taken lightly. I’ve twice been bereaved by suicide. I’ve experienced suicidal thoughts more times than I’d like to remember and ten years ago I attempted suicide. I am far from alone in that.
I’d argue that the euphemism ‘doing something silly’ is harmful. I think it trivialises suicide, infantilises it even. Doing something dangerous, yes; doing something desperate; definitely.
However, what matters most in terms of suicide prevention is that we are talking. Silence kills.
Perhaps euphemisms are very useful in helping us to communicate around difficult subjects? I would generally rather people were more direct. I think that leaves less room for misunderstanding, and helps to normalise speaking about the thing, such as death or more specifically suicide, itself.
Thanks for reading. I love a good discussion and I’d really love to hear your thoughts. Are euphemisms generally helpful? Should we be more direct? What about in terms of suicide prevention? You could comment on this post, or tweet me @heartsetonlivin .