(Above; the Harvard psych-cognoscenti eagerly await the commencement of Mr Pinker's address)
I went (with Gareth who's written about it too) to hear Steven Pinker speak about/from his new book yesterday. He's no fool, knows what an audience might enjoy and decided to focus on the chapter about swearing. Very popular. He used a great phrase while talking about the uses of swearing - describing it as a way of overcome 'the anaesthetic of the familiar' to shock people into noticing something. And that struck me as a really useful idea in a lot of circumstances. So much of our lives (especially our business/work lives) is trammeled by convention and habit that we're suffocated by the anaesthetic of the familiar a lot.
And he introduced a word I'd never heard of but really liked too - dysphemism. It seems that a dysphemism is essentially the opposite of a euphemism. So while a euphemism allows you to talk about a topic without confronting the nasty reality of that topic (say 'poo') a dysphemism is an intentionally hard word intending to confront you with that reality and make you examine if (say 'shit'). Again this would seem to have a lot of applications in business life, which is festooned with euphemisms, concealing reality and causing bad decisions. The interesting challenge might be to find the dysphemistic words that will usefully confront people, rather than just saying 'your business is shit'.