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The word “euphemism” is defined by The Random House Dictionary as
- the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt.
- the expression so substituted: “To pass away” is a euphemism for “to die.”
By these definitions of “euphemism” or any others imaginable, Anna Quindlen’s commencement speech at Mount Holyoke College is not particularly marked by the use of euphemisms. Instead, Quindlen speaks honestly and bluntly and pulls few punches in her address to the graduating students. In fact, part of the appeal of her speech involves its frankness, both about them and about herself.
Typical of such frankness is her advice,
Remember the words of Lily Tomlin: If you win the rat race, you're still a rat.
Another example of the candor of the speech appears when Quindlen describes her shallowness and even her dishonesty when she herself was a student in college:
I smiled at everyone in the dorm hallways, because it was important to be friendly, and I made fun of them behind their backs because it was important to be witty.
In short, Quindlen uses few if any examples of euphemism in this speech. Indeed, near the very end of her talk, Quindlen is direct and unsparing when she warns her listeners about the consequences of living an inauthentic life – a life spent trying to please others by being “perfect”:
If you have been perfect all your life, and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where your core ought to be. [emphasis added]
Quindlen is not sugar-coating her warning here, nor does she sugar-coat much of anything in her straightforward and honest address.
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