I teach a composition class, and one of the textbook exercises this week was quite illuminating! The students read a section on denotative and connotative meanings, and had to rewrite a few sentences “with words that arouse more positive feelings.” The words that the students were supposed to change were underlined.
For example, they might change “Felix was a mediocre student” to “Felix was an average student” or “The stench from the kitchen meant dinner was ready” to “The aroma from the kitchen…” One of the sentences was “My neighbor was a fat spinster lady.”
Here are some of the choices the students made. Some students thought different euphemisms were better than “fat.”
My neighbor was a plus-sized, single lady.
My neighbor was an overweight, single older woman.
My neighbor was a chubby single lady.
My neighbor was a big unmarried woman.
Some students thought it was “more positive” not to mention her weight at all.
My neighbor was an unmarried woman.
My neighbor was an independent lady.
My neighbor was a brilliant lady.
Best of all is this one: it would be “more positive” if she were thin!
My neighbor was a lean single lady.
You could also look at what they did with “spinster”–is her unmarried state worth noting? Is her weight? Talk about a teachable moment.
Posted by mo pie