Despite its frequent appearance in our everyday speech, indirectness is not something many people pause to consider. Why do people “beat around the bush”? “Downsize” instead of “terminate?” “Pass away” instead of “die?” What prompts people to say one thing, when both parties in the conversation know that there is another meaning?
Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology, Steven Pinker, explains the phenomenon of indirect speech in this entertaining discussion that’s part of the UC Berkeley Graduate Council Lectures series.
Pinker is a world renowned writer on language, mind, and human nature. His work on the psychology of language has won numerous awards and is recognized in many national science and psychological societies.
Check out what he has to say about the paradoxical appeal of euphemism, innuendo, politeness, and other forms of shilly-shallying, in The Elephant in the Room: The Psychology of Innuendo and Euphemism.