Words and Silence: Language in Menstruation
Updated: Jun 17
The event, Words and Silence: Language in Menstruation, was held on the 26th February 2021 at 6:00 PM. With active participants, the discussion ranged from 'unlearning period euphemisms' to addressing the complexity of language in reinforcing taboos.
Some important concepts were introduced to the participants before we discussed the implications of language use. These concepts are detailed below:
What is Taboo?
A taboo is a rule against doing something or even saying something that goes against a particular culture/religion. Taboos do not necessarily take root in logic and sometimes can be considered unfit for some while being completely acceptable for another.
The word Taboo originates from Tongan, meaning - forbidden behaviour, forbidden because it is believed that such behaviour is dangerous to certain individuals or society. These misconceptions were referred to as mere social sanctions placed on behaviour as distasteful catering to the existing power structures within society.
What then is Menstrual Taboo?
Cultural norms and religion are often compounded by beliefs that make the biological reality of menstruation taboo. Cultural and religious infrastructure make Menstruation riddled with shame and embarrassment and also labelled impure. Myths around Menstruation have silenced menstruators for a long time, and these myths do not seem to be particular to a geographical location.
Some taboos that have taken firm hold include - not entering the kitchen, not entering religious shrines (especially in countries like India), not washing or cutting hair during Menstruation, avoiding dance and as bizarre as it may sound: drinking lemonade.
Taboos impose behavioural restrictions on menstruating women and add to the existing shame leading to the silence around Menstruation and a further spread of misconceptions.
Euphemisms and Dysphemism in Language
Language plays a huge role in creating perceptions and breaking barriers to communication. Although languages widely vary, linguistic concepts and usage remain constant pertaining to particular languages. They are ridden with culture and even taboo. Inhibitions have been an inspiration for the development of euphemisms, dysphemisms and orthophemism.
Euphemisms are innocuous words or expressions used in place of one that may be found offensive or suggest something unpleasant. Some euphemisms are intended to amuse, while others use bland, inoffensive terms for concepts that the user wishes to downplay. Some examples of euphemisms used to refer to Menstruation are -
· La Semaine ketchup - Ketchup week (French)
· Rote Tante - Red Aunt (German)
· Mar Rosso - Red Sea (Italian) and several other usages along the same lines.
The most commonly used euphemism remains 'Period'.
Dysphemisms are expressions with connotations that are derogatory either about the matter or to the audience. Dysphemism's contrast with neutral or euphemistic expressions. Dysphemism may be motivated by fear, distaste, hatred, contempt, or humor. Some examples from regional languages in India include -