Euphemism and Dysphemism Help (page 2)

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011

Biased Questions

Imagine someone stops you on the street and asks you to participate in a survey about tax cuts. You agree, and she asks you the following questions:

  • Do you support tax cuts that benefit only the wealthy and neglect the needs of those with low incomes?
  • Do you think the government should be allowed to make tax cuts that exclude the poor and uneducated?

No matter how you feel about tax cuts, chances are you can't answer anything but no to these questions. Why? Because if you say yes, it sounds like you are not empathetic to the needs of those who are helpless. These questions are phrased unfairly, making it difficult for you to give a fair answer. In other words, inherent in the questions is a certain attitude toward tax cuts—in this case, a negative one—that prejudices the questions. In short, the questions aren't fair—they're biased.

Notice how these particular questions use dysphemisms to bias the questions and pressure you to answer them a certain way. In this example, tax cuts become equivalent to negative terms such as neglect and exclude.

Here is how euphemisms might be used to bias the questions toward the opposing point of view:

  • Do you support tax cuts that will benefit all socioeconomic levels of society and help improve the economy?
  • Do you think the government should be allowed to make tax cuts that give people's hard-earned money back to them?

This time, notice how saying yes is much easier than saying no. If you say no to the first question, it sounds like you are indifferent to what happens to you and your society. If you say no to the second question, it sounds like you are without compassion and don't believe that people deserve to keep what they earn.

Here are the questions revised once again so that you can answer yes or no fairly:

  • Do you support tax cuts?
  • Do you think the government should be allowed to decide when to make tax cuts?

Professional surveys will be careful to ask fair questions, but when political organizations, advertisers, and other groups or individuals have an agenda, they may use biased questions to elicit specific results. Similarly, anyone who wants to influence you may use biased questions to get you to respond in a certain way. That's why it's important for you to recognize when a question is fair and when it's biased.


Have you ever gone online and created your own survey? It can be fun—but how hard is it to create questions that are completely free of your own personal bias or perspective? It takes skill to create a list of questions that are free of prejudice so beware of any surveys you might take, quote, or use.

Euphemism and Dysphemism In Short

Euphemisms, dysphemisms, and biased questions can have a powerful influence on readers and listeners. Euphemisms replace negative expressions with ones that are neutral or positive. Dysphemisms do the opposite: They replace neutral or positive expressions with ones that are harsh or negative. Biased questions make it difficult for us to answer questions fairly. Learning to recognize these subtle persuasion techniques promotes independent thinking and lets people come to their own conclusions, rather than the conclusions others want them to reach.

Skill Building until Next Time

  • Listen carefully to conversations, to the news, to what people say to you and ask of you. Do you notice any euphemisms, dysphemisms, or biased questions? Do you catch yourself using any of these techniques yourself?
  • You can improve your ability to recognize subtle persuasion techniques by practicing them yourself. Come up with euphemisms, dysphemisms, and biased questions throughout the day.

Exercises for this concept can be found at Euphemism and Dysphemism Practice.

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