Cuba, An Island of Euphemisms

Dariela Aquique

People who were the “maggots,” “worms,” “traitors” and “scum” are now called “community members” or “Cuban-Americans” or “those living outside of Cuba.”

HAVANA TIMES, March 30 — Euphemisms (which are of course words and expressions used for replacing other ones that are considered bad sounding, distasteful or inappropriate), are commonly used in Cuba, especially by those seeking to avoid “annoying interpretations.”

An annoying interpretation, in turn, can be a word that describes a possible reprimand from a superior, boss or colleague who thinks your term is inappropriate. Let me give you some examples:

The words “maid,” “housekeeper,” “servant” and “service employee” disappeared from the national lexicon as they were considered bourgeois expressions, and all vestiges of the bourgeoisie needed to be eliminated from the lives of Cubans.

With the passage of time and the incontrovertible existence of class differences in the country, these types of words have reappeared among those who need to pay other people for domestic services and those who need to get paid for those services.

The circumstances have returned, but with new designations. Now these people are called “the woman who does the cleaning” or “the man who runs errands”; or — more amicably — they might be referred to as “the person who helps us at home,” thus creating some degree of ambiguity. One might even get the impression that this person is not bound by money in providing this “aid or assistance.”

People who were the “maggots,” “worms,” “traitors” and “scum” of the mass exoduses (from the port at Camarioca in 1960 and Mariel in 1980), after certain social and political conjunctures began to be referred to using gentler terms like “community members” or “Cuban-Americans” or “those living outside of Cuba.”

This is why it’s not at all uncommon for people who are “fired” or “laid off” to be described as having experienced “employment reorganization.” Likewise “evictions” become the “distrainment of real property.”

And anyone who provides information about other people to the police or to the Ministry of the Interior — rather than being labeled as “informants,” “snitches” or chivatos — they are described as “auxiliaries” or “civilian collaborators.”

A “prostitute” is now called a jinetera (escort), and theft (on a large scale by certain officials) has been dubbed “the mismanagement of resources.”

But there are some terms that are completely exempt from the possibility of receiving any softer kinder euphemisms. These include “independent journalist” or “blogger,” which are smeared with words like “cyber-dissident” or even “mercenary” in the worst cases.

In other words, euphemisms are employed to a degree directly proportional to the level of the commitment they have for the implantation or ordering by the system, in accordance with the period and the context.

These are the reasons my writings are never published in official media. Don’t imagine, my friends, that the cause of this is “censorship” or a lack of “freedom of expression” its that I’m very apt to use amplified phraseology and opinions that are “exaggerated,” “distorted,” “imprudent” or “inconsistent” with our reality.

Please, I’m not asking for anyone to describe me as being “sardonic” with this. I’m only being “funny.”


Dariela Aquique

Dariela Aquique: I remember my years as a high school student, especially that teacher who would interrupt the reading of works and who with surprising histrionics spoke of the real possibilities of knowing more about the truth of a country through its writers than through historical chronicles. From there came my passion for writing and literature. I had excellent teachers (sure, those were not the days of the Fast-track Teachers) and extemporization and the non-mastery of subjects was not tolerated. With humble pretenses, I want to contribute to revealing the truth about my country, where reality always overcomes fiction, but where a novel style shrouds its existence.

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One thought on “Cuba, An Island of Euphemisms

  • Every time I visit Cuba, it cracks me up when Cubans say “busca” or “look” for money instead of earn money. Or when Cubans say “prestame” or ” loan or borrow” when they really mean “give” me something. I still get the point though.

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