Small Talk
November 30th, 2011

Having a child has made me re-think lots of adult systems, including the way we speak. In addition to Olivia's inability to fully grasp figurative sayings yet, she also isn't sure what's a euphemism and what isn't. She's four; that's acceptable.

Adults have so many substitute words that soften the blow of the harder or uglier truth. A recent one that's come up is the use of "big."

I'm always telling her that she's such a "big girl," a phrase I use to praise her for doing something well, or for a new attempt at responsibility.

Naturally, she would think "big girl" is a compliment. She told me when she grows up she wants to be a "big girl, like my mommy."

"Oh, no, Sweetie. We don't call women 'big girls,'" I gently corrected.

"But why?" she asked.

"It means two different things when you call a child big, versus an adult. Ladies don't like to be called big, even if they are," I said. "Don't tell any ladies that you think they're big."

"But why?" Famous last words of a preschooler.

I was very reluctant to go there, but in the interest of truth-seeking, I did. "Big means 'tall' for children but it's usually a nicer way of saying 'fat' when you've stopped growing up. Then you just grow out. People don't like to be reminded that they're getting wider."

She looked at me with an even more confused look. "So what about men?"

"You can call men big if they're muscular. Then they probably like it. But not if they're fat," I explained.

I am fully aware of how ridiculous this conversation sounds. Maybe it would be just easier if I told her not to make a comment at all.

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4 Responses to “Euphemisms”

  1. Ken Conklin:

    An older meaning for "big man" was luna, boss, overseer -- "Mr. Big" -- the guy who has the power or authority. I think the phrase is still used that way in places we euphemistically refer to as "developing countries." We also say "He's too big for his britches" referring to someone who behaves as though he has a level of authority higher than what he really has. So I guess it's good to be big (but not toooo big).

  2. kuunakanaka:

    aloha Diane:

    2 funny. my 2 year old is learning how 2 talk. my seven year old is learning because at seven they speak what's on their mind w/o considering the receiver's feelings.

  3. Rosette:

    YES so next time don't call your daughter "big girl"....she will tell you MOMMY I AM NOT FAT...omg funny!! Just say great job...awesome ...fabulous.... fantastic...!

  4. Rosette:

    yes she will catch on..BIG GIRL...mommy called me fat today...omg funny....

    yes I tell my son you are a big boy now you can do things on your own ..yes mommy I am bigger than you !

    What is better being called big girl..OR FAT GIRL..omg !

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