Turmoil in the Middle East; rise in demand: These are some of the reasons cited by airlines when they added a fuel surcharge, a flat fee applied across the board, to all airline tickets this week. While it is reasonable to expect transportation costs to rise when fuel is expensive, airlines have a history of keeping their rates high after market factors cease to impact prices. Our interest isn’t really in corporate behavior but the particular use of the word “surcharge” by the airlines. The media and consumer groups have focused on this equivocal language as a way of blunting their true action: raising ticket prices. What other ways can one describe language that cloaks true meaning?
Tweens and teens tend to use hyperbole, otherwise known as an exaggeration, to overstate a case. “You’ve said that a million times already.” The hyper- prefix comes from Greek and means “excessive.” Deliberate exaggeration is actually the opposite of equivocation: hyperbole tends to make a point by bluntly, obtusely presenting the evidence for one’s case.
Charging someone with obfuscation is serious business, so many of the phrases used to do so are formal and ancient. Another Latin phrase for equivocation, this one widely used in American law, is suppressio veri, or “concealment of truth.”
So, how about some more everyday words for when people use misleading language? “Weasel words” is an Americanism that paints a vivid picture of cowardly deception. Just as someone can be “smart like a fox,” the weasel’s sinewy body and quick movements give us a metaphore for cunning, sneaky behavior.
Can you think of other examples where meaning is used to actually obscure other meaning? Let us know.
I just refer to it as “obfuscation”, “double speak”, or “lying”.
How about euphemisms!
How about “Euphemism”. We use them all the time to not say what we really mean, mostly in order to be polite. “I have to powder my nose.” People unfamiliar with our euphemisms often have no clue what we mean.
Revisionist Historian- a liar about the truth of what actually happened in history.
If you didn’t know the meaning of a word you might be looking at this differently, in the spirit the question was posed. I hate the word slather. It sounds ugly to me. What’s wrong with moist? The words diarrhea & placenta are kind of pretty words. It’s their meaning that grosses you out. The word gay could go in either column. It depends on how you interpret the meaning. Leave meaning out. Pretend a word is foreign & you have no idea what it means. Now start over.
What about euphemisms, as they do hide what they refer to behind an acceptable word or phrase???
Love this site….my daily enjoyment is testing myself on the meanings of
words. Thank you!
….hotels often use “under-departed” for “sold out”
Metaphore? Are we transverting to British English?
Other than that, wonderful article!!!
Metaphore? Are we reverting to British English here?
Other than that miniscule detail, wonderful article!!!
Am I the first one to post a comment? Anyway I think that the article was very interesting and enlightening (as always).
Thank you hotword !
“Artist” is often used to describe someone lacking in musical ability.
interesting. i came to dictionary.com to look for the meaning of something i was confused on, WHILE i was in the big picture looking up things about the ILLUMINATI.
other words that hide the meaning of other words?
what about conspiracytheory
I just don’t understand what the picture of a “seal of quality” has to do with this.
Change “metaphore” into “metaphor.”
The word ‘hysteria’ is used to describe someone that has flipped their top, but it was derived from the Latin term ‘hystera’ meaning traveling womb. In the nineteenth century, doctors used the word ‘hysteria’ to diagnose depressed women.
The airlines could be accued of using a euphemism, as “surcharge” sounds nicer than “price hike”. Obfuscation implies circumlocution – some people take the sting out of harsh words through verbosity. If they get carried away, they can be accused of grandiloquence.
An example would be a politician using “investment” instead of “subsidy.”
This article is sooo hyper.
I love it when politicians say “I don’t intend to” when they really mean “I probably will.”
Not quite sure, though, in what way “surcharge” is equivocal. When there’s a fuel surcharge, no one is wondering whether this means the price has gone up or down. “Surcharge” is as unequivocal as they come.
obfuscate = to make obscure or unclear: to obfuscate a problem with extraneous information.
euphemism! or spin
Wow, my granny wud luv this site. =D shame she dusnt hav a computer.
Words can mislead, convey a meaning subtly and sub rosa. Who uses and to whom they are addressed will doctor the meaning.
Yep, I also vote for euphemism. I thought for sure that was your word of the day! I’ve heard it defined as “using nicer words to hide an unpleasant truth”. Although once I was reading in a dictionary of euphemisms, and discovered that many of the entries were extremely vulgar. It turned out to be a compilation of much more unpleasant ways to express the original thought!
Pre-owned for used (car).
passed (away) = died
put to sleep = euthanized
Then of course there’s “paralipsis” or the act of talking about something by saying you’re not going to talk about it: “She’s a smart woman, not to mention beautiful.”
I took the picture of the “seal of quality” to represent advertising or product misdirection. “YOUR seal of quality” can be misread as “OUR seal of quality.” They’re not standing behind their claim, they’re just saying “Here take this meaningless sticker.” Kind of like the products with “New Improved Original Formula!!!” emblazed on them. Meaningless, just meant to catch your eye…and your money.
How about “smoke and mirrors?”
“British English”? “English” sums it up perfectly thanks. You are welcome to your own version which is US English.
English originated & persists in England; it needs no further description. You speak a dialect of English.
How about eminent and preeminent?
shroud is a great synonym for hide or conceal…I also like its macabre allusion.
wow i didn’t know anyone posted on this site
My favorite word is duplicity. Now I know that tergiversation is a synonym for that my favorite word. Who knew?
Pardon me, Queen S…
It’s “minuscule,” not “miniscule.”
Think “minus,” not “mini” and you’ll never go astray on this one!
If the price of fuel is going up, then shouldn’t the extra fee be added depending on the amount of fuel the journey will take, rather than across the board?
The “Quality” sticker is there because one of the definitions of quality is “an essential or distinctive characteristic.” It isn’t saying that it guarantees good quality or bad, just that it promises quality. It’s like promising something has size. Most people would assume that means that it’s big, but in reality, it could e small, as small is a size as well.
“I just don’t understand what the picture of a “seal of quality” has to do with this.”
A “seal of quality” is equivocal because everything has a quality. Greasy fast food can be said to have quality. It has a BAD quality. So declaring something to be “quality” makes the consumer assume “good” even though that need not be the case.
Metaphore …. correctly spelt!!!! So nice to find a website/article that doesn’t jar the senses and make you wince as you read Keep up the good work.
Dear Queen Sardonic,
The British do not spell “metaphore” as so.
Correct British spelling- metaphor.
I would know. I am British.
Yet another reader asked whether (s)he was the first commenter. Ho, hum. I offer sage counsel for the Hot Word: Augment the “Leave a comment” form to include a set of hyperlinked counsels (or “tips”³) for the prospective commenter. I propose five, the first of which would resemble:
“Every submitted comment is humanly scrutinized before it may be approved and published. This delays its visibility to other readers, sometimes many hours. Thus, even when no comment is visible, other readers might already have submitted comments. Trying to post the first comment is imprudent and may backfire.”
Of course, only those first two sentences are essential.
I am notorious and criticized for posting verbose comments. My other four candidate counsels shall await other day (and, I hope, evidence of receptiveness).
I cast the fourth(+) vote for “euphemism” (including a misspelled form) spontaneously coming to mind.
“[In w]hat other ways can one describe language [style] that cloaks [the] true[, underlying] meaning?” “Obfuscation” did not rise to my consciousness impromptu, but it fits the Hot Word’s bill of inquiry the best. (Did I know an oboist Cheryl Byers in Hawthorne, CA?) These are also single nouns:
To construct more elaborate nominal synonyms, one needs merely to append “meaning” to a past participle or other suitable adjective or insert “semantic” before nouns bearing a sense of illusion, cover, error or deception. (I cheated and consulted Thesaurus.com to jog my memory.) Et voilà:
semantic veil, and
Please do me and all other readers the favor of posting your superior cónstructs which eluded my attention.
Mediating the controversy between the Hot Word, “Queen Sardonic”, “ticino”, and “Regina Verborum”, I propose that “metaphore” is a ¡transcendently! metamorphosed “semaphore”…perhaps, the result of transitory dysphoria. (Perhaps that elicits 0.2 millivolts of cerebral humour—otherwise, I need to depart in a hurry.)
How about a pre-owned car instead of a used or secondhand one? The most commonly used, of course, is collateral damage, certainly in the coming weeks and months in Libya.
Actually, I have been led to understand that US English is closer to early UK English that modern English is. The English that went over on the Mayflower has influenced US English while UK English modified itself in a different way
How about all the weasel words used in commercials? Things like “lasts up to 12 hours” means anywhere from 1 to 12 hours,usually closer to 1. Or maybe “no one beats our prices” which means we charge the same as everybody else. Commercials of full of these phrases.
How about “upcharge” for premium films at movie theaters?
As Bill said, “artist” for someone lacking in talent. I’ll add “song stylist” to that, meaning to me at least, the person can’t sing.
Food in a restaurant is often billed as “home-made.” Isn’t that deceptive advertisement? To be truly “home-made,” mustn’t the food be made at home? Oops, I’m off subject. Sorry.
Paralipsis was mentioned above, and there is also the similar rhetorical technique called apophasis. “I shall not even mention my opponents drinking problem.”
Euphemism has been mentioned a few times, but a word many people don’t know is dysphemism — where a euphemism is the substitution of softer language, dysphemism is the substitution of harsher language, making it similar to hyperbole.
Euphemism for sure
Mmm… semantic fudge…
With all due respect, Queen Sardonic is perfectly justified in saying “British English.” Had she simply said “English,” no one would have known what she was trying to say. Suffice it to say, she was mistaken — In England, it’s still metaphor; Dictionary.com simply spelled it wrong — but that gives you no excuse to make a pompous comment like that.
Get a hobo to live in your restaurant’s cellar or bathroom. Then your restaurant can say “homemade” honestly.
@curly ur comments r just plain weird
“Peacemaking”, which may as well mean dropping bombs.
how about “adumbrate”?
It means “to reveal and to conceal”, like a riddle. Dictonary.com’s definition is:
1. to produce a faint image or resemblance of; to outline or sketch.
2. to foreshadow; prefigure.
3. to darken or conceal partially; overshadow.
@ Maximonk: Despite the fact that I am commenting 8 months after your posts appeared the English I speak and write is 21st century English and not the English that was spoken when the Mayflower left our fair shores.
@ curly: Come, come! Almost any entry on this comments page carries with it a degree of pomposity. People with no inclination to improve the language of others or to show superior knowledge simply do not comment. Nevertheless thank you for your point as I found it interesting to learn that US English spells metaphor with a final ‘e’.
It’s actually called ‘euphemism’!