Euphemism is a required art for anyone who communicates with the public, be they politicians or PR flacks. The idea is to change or otherwise soften concepts that may be considered too blunt. Matters regarding sex, bodily functions and death are often euphemized so as not to offend delicate sensibilities, and sometimes euphemisms are used to cover up realities their users don’t want clarified, such as the use of the word “ianfu” (comfort women) to describe World War II sex slaves.

But there is a kind of tipping point beyond which the softening aspect becomes ironic and the game is revealed. Take the Japanese verb kawaigaru, which means “to adore” or “to fondle.” It also has an ironic usage that means “to discipline,” the idea being that you can express love to others by punishing them for their own good. In this usage “kawaigaru” is not a euphemism, since the real meaning of the core idea is emphasized through irony. However, even the English word “punish” doesn’t really jibe with the concept here, since the usual Japanese translations, these being “seisai suru” and “korashimeru,” can also incorporate the idea of teaching a lesson.

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