Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

A Bad Case of the Peedoodles

When you obsess about words as much as I do, it's hard to pick a favorite. It's like Batman picking his favorite criminal lowlife. How do you choose between the Joker, Two Face, the Penguin, and the scum who killed your parents? It's just too painful.

But what the heck, here's a good candidate, and it's also exhibit Q in the case of why I love the Dictionary of American Regional English: peedoodle.

While flipping through the massive four volumes of DARE that have already been published, I spotted peedoodle, a word I had never encountered before in my entire word-loving life. Turns out this childish, Southern, humorous-sounding term has been living a lush linguistic life since the 1800s, with a trio of meanings.

First, it means the jitters, as in "You're giving me the peedoodles, stranger." Then it can be used in expressions like "They bore the peedoodles out of me" or "You don't know peedoodle about organ-stealing; let me show you how it's done." Finally, it has a pee-centric meaning that a 2000 DARE citation explains: "This is an expression I occasionally heard my mother use. It means to briefly lose control of one's bladder... Can be caused by nerves, or a strong cough, a sneeze or even a laugh."

All those meanings are mildly euphemistic and severely obscure. The euphiness is a gift waiting to be opened, and the obscurity is a tragedy we can avert. Don't let peedoodles languish! Whether you while away your days tweeting, blogging, playwriting, prophesying, noveling, or ransom-noting, your writing could only benefit from this versatile word, which has such a proud family that loves it, including fadoodle, monkey doodle, Cheese Doodle, dipsy-doodle, and labradoodle.

So please, don't beat the snot out of your opponents in the octagon. Beat the peedoodles out of 'em. Don't lizz — as in the Liz Lemon-inspired blend of laughing and whizzing — peedoodle. Forget the heebie-jeebies: get the peedoodles.

As for me, I know somewhere between jack squat and peedoodle about most things on heaven, earth, and the Martian colonies, but I know my euphemisms. Here are the latest I've uncovered — use with care, because euphemisms have feelings too.

grave borrowing

I can tell I'm getting old because there are several groovy, wonderful, ultra-cool things that I have completely forgotten about, only to rediscover later, much like the guy from Memento checking his tattoos to realize he has a terrible vengeance to pursue. One of these things is the falafel. I forgot their deliciousness for about six years. Another is The Far Side, which I started pulling off my shelf a few months ago, and I refuse to put it back. In one of Gary Larson's many masterpieces, I spotted a euphemism that could be quite useful to today's branding-obsessed entrepreneurs: "Convinced by his buddies that in actual fact they were only grave 'borrowing,' a young Igor starts on the road to crime." Since I know grave-robbers account for around 37% of my readership, let me also suggest the titles grave enthusiast and grave whisperer.

person Friday

If I had guessed, I would have said person Friday — as a gender-neutral evasion of man Friday and girl Friday, terms for personal assistants derived from Robinson Crusoe's servant he called "my man Friday"was a phony euphemism made up by people who just like to make fun of euphemisms. God, don't you hate people like that? Anyhoo, while perusing the Oxford English Dictionary entry on person for another project I'm not cleared to discuss, I learned that this term has been used sincerely from time to time. The first recorded use in 1974 is definitely in the jokey category, but this 1985 example seems completely straight-faced: "He stood as witness, alongside his lifelong person-Friday, the astonishing Marigold Hunt, at our Catholic remarriage." Maybe this could even be a new career for me, should the euphemism-collecting market decline. Could be a stretch, though... I've always been more of a non-person Wednesday, according to my family and friends.

morale welfare recreation

This one may not meet my usual obscurity requirements, since it did appear on the Time magazine blog Swampland, but it is too preposterous to pass up. As Michael Scherer wrote, morale welfare recreation "...is the term Blackwater Worldwide, a private security company now called Xe, allegedly used to classify the salary of a Filipino prostitute who worked with the company's male employees in Afghanistan. Her salary was allegedly billed to the U.S. Government, and is now the subject of a civil whistle blower lawsuit filed by two ex-Blackwater employees." Your tax dollars at work! On a serious note, it is the fervent hope of every father that his daughters do not grow up to be morale welfare recreation.

admiral of the narrow seas

Now there's a title that would look just spanking on anyone's resume or business card; it would give the title-bearer wide jurisdiction, perhaps even over Cap'n Crunch. Unfortunately, admiral of the narrow seas isn't a title bestowed by the Navy or even the Council of Pirates — I spied it in Paul Dickson's terrific book Drunk, and it's one of 2,964 synonyms for drunk, like circling over Shannon. To be admiral of the narrow seas goes well beyond mere intoxication: Dickson found it in a 1785 slang dictionary called The Vulgar Tongue, which describes it as meaning, "A drunk who throws up in someone's lap".

Those seas are narrow indeed, and few are gross enough to sail them. We can thank our lucky peedoodles for that.


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Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore." Click here to read more articles by Mark Peters.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday March 3rd 2010, 3:30 AM
Comment by: Joanna H.
I have now added peedoodle to my vocabulary for every day use. I can use it every day and no one will know what I'm saying (unless they have read your article too!) Thanks for this whole inspiring article. I love crazy words and expressions and have been known from time to time (more often, my friends would say) to create my own.
Wednesday March 3rd 2010, 4:48 AM
Comment by: Waldo G. (London United Kingdom)
In quaint old London, England, the term 'flapdoodle' is not unknown, and it's playable in Scrabble.
Wednesday March 3rd 2010, 7:08 AM
Comment by: Suzanne V.
I'm also happy to meet a great word like peedoodle and can't wait to work it into a conversation!
My mother used to say "fapdoodle" when annoyed or thwarted -- maybe a variant of Waldo's flapdoodle.
In the euphemism section, I found morale / moral momentarily confusing.

Thanks for the great articles!
Wednesday March 3rd 2010, 8:37 AM
Comment by: Tamara H. (Indianapolis, IN)
I have to give two thumbs up for "Admiral of the narrow seas"...it doesn't get any euphemistically better than that!
Wednesday March 3rd 2010, 9:40 AM
Comment by: Arlene T.
I loathe the gender-neutral pronoun craze, and I could kill the person who started it.
I'm for Man Friday and Gal Friday all the way!
Wednesday March 3rd 2010, 10:19 AM
Comment by: Pat C. (Asheville, NC)
I am southern and love words. Peedoodle is perfect for me. My curse word is pea turkey! Do you know it?
Wednesday March 3rd 2010, 11:39 AM
Comment by: Susan C.
Moral or Morale?

["Morale" -- "moral" was a typo, now fixed. —Ed.]
Wednesday March 3rd 2010, 12:08 PM
Comment by: Alyce P. (Husum, WA)
Love this! But, I think it SHOULD be Morale...for the welfare of the Blackwater staff's morale. Despicable! Thanks for the entertainment.
Wednesday March 3rd 2010, 12:47 PM
Comment by: Mark P. (Chicago, IL)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Hey Pat, could you use "pea turkey" in a sentence? Or is it just an exclamation, like "Oh, pea turkey!"

Either way, I love it. Where’d you pick that up?
Wednesday March 3rd 2010, 2:07 PM
Comment by: David D.
Go deeper into the dusty shelves of your library and find some books of ... POGO! Walt Kelly put words to uses previously unknown and if ever peedoodle had a natural home, it would be there. I know he wrote of "The Prince of Pompadoodle" for a fact. (Pogo would say, " ... for a fack.")
Wednesday March 3rd 2010, 2:28 PM
Comment by: Becky C.
This is a great article. Somewhere in the recesses of my memory I seem to remember peedoodle being used, or perhaps it was another -doodle. My mother had some rather strange expressions and she wasn't from the South. Ahhh, morale welfare recreation, I'm sure that that is what all of those politicians need, since they seem to avail themselves of it!
Thursday March 4th 2010, 2:45 PM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)Top 10 Commenter
Ah, I got 'pea turkey' by googling! In the Urban Dictionary, it means 'nothing', 'nada', 'zilch'.

Oh pea turkey! That only has meaning to the wise among us who read the comments here to learn that it can be a cuss word!

I love it!

It is also useful as 'nada' as in, "Did you find anything out about the string theory?"

"Nada."

There you go!

I think I prefer, Oh pea turkey!
Saturday March 6th 2010, 9:52 AM
Comment by: Katherine F. (Dallas, TX)
I need a fun article like this every day!!! How festive!

Lately I've been using 'wackadoodle' in my conversations; as in,

"My cousin's is wackadoodle since she found out people have been using her phrase "shut the front door!" as a euphamism for impolitely asking one to be quiet."

or "that's wackadoodle" when responding to something far-fetched.

I love it. These phrases and words tend to last for me around 6 months to a year and then I'll ditch them for something even more festive and bright.

*oh, and I believe I heard someone in a movie say it???

Thanks for always increasing my vocabulary and knowledge and giving me abother reason to smile!

Katherine
Saturday March 6th 2010, 9:56 AM
Comment by: Katherine F. (Dallas, TX)
please forgive my mistakes, it's early and my proofreadings' not good till the first cup of coffee is finished!
Saturday March 6th 2010, 11:07 AM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)Top 10 Commenter
Quote Katherine:

please forgive my mistakes, it's early and my proofreadings' not good till the first cup of coffee is finished!


Ah, I'll try to remember that excuse! (Giggle) Do you ever find yourself on the wrong row of keys -- AFTER you hit the send button? That's my favourite thing to do. You get amazing words that way!

Oh, pea turkey!
Sunday March 21st 2010, 2:11 PM
Comment by: Jerry M.
Peedoodle will now replace my previous expression of exasperation, "Rat Dookey!"
Tuesday March 23rd 2010, 9:32 AM
Comment by: Katy P. (Bloomington, MN)
I wonder if other languages have as much fun with euphemisms as English does. Such a delight!
Wednesday April 7th 2010, 11:47 AM
Comment by: Paula P.
Re gender-neutral pronouns: When this craze took hold among copyeditors back in the 1980s, I sent the following proposal to an editing newsletter: For a gender-neutral all-purpose pronoun we might form a new word. Taking the "s" from "she," the "h" from "he," and the entirety of "it," we might use s/h/it for an all-purpose, gender-neutral nominative-case pronoun. Over time, of course, the solidus/slash marks would be omitted, engendering other discussions about the relationship between gender-neutral pronouns and scatology.

On another subject: For decades I've used "oh, fiddlesticks" as my expletive of choice. Since 1956, I've paid attention to how long it takes coworkers to begin using it instead of other, usually censured, expletives. Perhaps someone who develops workplace etiquette or such might investigate this. A friend likewise uses "oh, shistlepot."
Wednesday April 7th 2010, 3:49 PM
Comment by: Arlene T.
Way to go, Paula!
Ascribing gender to pronouns in no way limits participation in any activity by gender that is ascribed to people. Anyone who is educated and literate knows this. To speak and write otherwise is to promote bad grammar and fuzzy meanings and, in my view, becomes a petition for a social handout by someone who is weak.
If you give a book to someone, it is perfectly all right to say, "I gave a book to someone and he is reading it right now." Wrong to say, "I gave a book to someone and they are reading it right now."
Wednesday April 7th 2010, 4:04 PM
Comment by: Ben Zimmer (New York, NY)Visual Thesaurus ContributorVisual Thesaurus Moderator
We've talked about the problem of gender-neutral pronouns several times here -- check out commentary from Anne Curzan, Margaret Hundley Parker, and most recently Neal Whitman.
Wednesday April 7th 2010, 9:41 PM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)Top 10 Commenter
Anonymous, I like to avoid those pesky pronoun situations. I'd have said, "...gave a book to someone who's reading it now."
Wednesday April 7th 2010, 10:26 PM
Comment by: Arlene T.
Question is: why are they (the pronoun situations) "pesky"? And why do they have to be avoided?
Thursday April 8th 2010, 11:57 AM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)Top 10 Commenter
Paula, I too have suggested combining those singular forms to get one neutral one. Unfortunately, it never (Sigh) took hold. People seemed to sense something wrong with it. Puzzling, isn't it?

Anonymous, because of my background (I can hear the nuns sighing), I find a 'they' with something singular singularly problemnatic. And it's not just the nuns. My father, up above now, can still hear what I'm writing or saying. And he'd shudder if I found those constructions something other than pesky!
Tuesday July 6th 2010, 11:22 AM
Comment by: geroge K.
The author of Batman , Neal Adams has a web site
and some youtube presentation subject " Expanding Earth "

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