Some Brief Thoughts On The Journal ‘Addiction’ And The Euphemism Treadmill
See? I can give academics credit when they deserve it.
Some years back, a friend of mine, “Rachel,” was applying to the same graduate school I’d already gone to. I was one of a few friends she asked to look over one of her admissions essays.
Rachel had exactly the sort of background you’d want in someone applying to a competitive public policy master’s program. She’d dedicated years of her life to helping extremely vulnerable people, working at the intersection of homelessness, addiction, and sex work. So above and beyond the fact that she was a friend of mine, I wanted to assist her however I could.
I noticed a phrase in her application that stuck out a bit. I can’t remember exactly what the phrase was, which certainly takes some of the wind out of this story, but I believe it was “women who trade sex.” It was clear from context what she meant — what I would call a sex worker, a term which has supplanted prostitute — but at the time I hadn’t encountered this phrase and it just sounded a tiny bit off to me, someone with no expertise in this area. I suggested she change it, simply because while it may have been the acceptable term in her world, I suspected members of the admissions committee might have the same reaction I did.
Rachel got in (solely because of that one tweak I suggested, of course1), and I found it to be an interesting example of how the “euphemism treadmill” advances at different speeds in different communities. I was reminded of this story when I came across a tweet by the Stanford University addiction researcher Keith Humphreys the other day.
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