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Euphemisms Affect Parents' Attitudes Toward Corporal Punishment

Parents are more comfortable with corporal punishment when gentler language is used to describe it.
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Crying baby

Few parents would admit to beating their children. But what about spanking them? A study published in the journal Psychology of Violence finds parents were more comfortable with corporal punishment when gentler language was used to describe it. In an online survey, 672 adults were presented with a few brief vignettes about a mother paddling her five-year-old son, and asked how common, acceptable, and effective her action was. She scored highest on all three measures when her action was described as spanking and lowest when it was described as beating, with "swatting," "hitting," and "slapping" in between. Whatever you call it, research is clear that corporal punishment is both ineffective and psychologically harmful to children; the research team that authored the paper suggests "excising the term spank from our lexicon and replacing it with the word assault" could help change attitudes and behavior. Euphemisms can hurt—literally.

A version of this story originally appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of Pacific Standard.