June 23, 2011

Euphemistic parallelism . . .

…to coin a term. It denotes how parallelism can be used in structuring phrases to make one very bitter phrase seem as sweet as another phrase, which the bitter phrase parallels.

It's the parallelism inherent in the general names for the two major kinds of retirement plans offered to employees by American employers. The two kinds of plans are 1) the "defined benefit plan," which you can think of as the traditional pension which pays to the retiree a set amount each month from retirement until death; and 2) the "defined contribution plan," typically a 401(k) plan, where employee and employer pay a set amount each month into an investment or savings plan--and how much the retiree receives depends on the value of that account at the time of retirement and after.

"Defined benefit plans" have become much less common, because a retiree is entitled to the money regardless of the pension plan's or employer's ability to keep paying. Think of how defined benefits plans are bankrupting the government of California. But they usually provide constant, reliable income and are therefore good for the retiree. On the other hand, the value to a retiree of the "defined contribution plan" is based on the value of the assets the plan purchased with the contributed funds. So, if the contributions into a defined contribution plan were used to buy Enron stock, or any American stock at all leading up to the 2007 crash, the retiree could get MUCH less than he had been counting on.

The parallel structures of the phrases "defined benefit plan" and "defined contribution plan" make them sound like two sides of the same coin, and like two more-or-less-equal alternatives. But to a retiree, the defined contribution plan is a lot more risky, and all he can be certain of is the amount of today's income he is paying in before he retires. The recent stock market catastrophe has painfully shown that the amount of money paid out after retirement is not certain at all. So that kind of plan needs to be described euphemistically. Hence, the use of euphemistic parallelism.

Can you think of other examples of euphemistic parallelism?

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