Euphemisms old and new
Clear Communication That Didn't Get Accomplished
Are you a team player?
How about a team member?
If you're employed, you may qualify as the latter.
While shopping at Target recently, I needed to conduct some government business. As I washed my hands after the conclusion of such business, I noticed a sign that pinged my euphemism-dar: "Team members must wash hands before returning to work." Team members? That's an awfully elevated way of referring to employees. This sign would be much more appropriate in the john at Avengers Mansion or the secret mountain lair of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
Sinister genetic anomalies aside, welcome to another roundup of the euphemisms — new and old, fresh and stale, sweet and salty — that have lately come to my attention. I hope they tickle your funny bone and baffle your think bone.
hitting a lick
The criminal underworld has long been a petri dish of slang and euphemisms. Here's a larcenous term I learned recently, which was used in a 2008 story about a Dallas robbery: "Once at the apartment, police say, Mr. Johnson told a witness that he and his brother were in the process of 'hitting a lick' on Mr. Hobbs for $4,000." Basically, to hit a lick is to rob something or somebody. I'm not sure what the origin of this one is, but maybe it evolved from liquor store, which is such a popular venue for robberies and prayer meetings.
Bucky and Robin are two of the most famous sidekicks in the history of comic books, standing side by side with their spandex-clad mentors, Captain America and Batman, respectively. To the best of my knowledge, neither ever complained about the term sidekick, but a more obscure hero has objected. In an issue of Invincible— Robert Kirkman's other huge comic book success besides The Walking Dead — the title character encounters a Batman-like hero called Darkwing. But it's not the original Darkwing. If that's not awkward enough, the replacement says, "I'm simply continuing the legacy. I was Night Boy. His assistant." This prompts Invincible to ask, "Assistant? You mean 'sidekick'?" The former assistant grimly replies, "We don't use that term. It's demeaning." Clearly, when your resume includes stints as Night Boy and Darkwing, you are an expert in dignity maintenance.
I've always found the words pants and trousers to be kind of funny, and I'm a sucker for another word for what "society" and "the law" believe I should be wearing in public. As the Oxford English Dictionary explains, this term has a religious pedigree, defining continuations as "Gaiters continuous with 'shorts' or knee-breeches, as worn by bishops, deans, etc. Hence in mod. slang, trousers, as a continuation of the waistcoat." The term dates from 1825 and a magazine citation that mentions the "fear of spilling it over what a tailor would call my continuations." Since that use was from 1883, "it" was likely not a half-caf, no-whip, gluten-free, artisan latte with a protein boost.
Goodwill is such benevolent word, the kind thrown around when decking the halls or playing insufferable Christmas music. However, this seemingly life-enhancing word was recently used as a somewhat nefarious euphemism. As discussed in The Guardian, a company called Peverel made goodwill payments to customers who had been bamboozled into paying overcharges by a subsidiary: the word compensation was avoided to dodge blame and accuracy. That's clever stuff. If you offer compensation, you're admitting wrong-doing. But if you offer goodwill payments, you're acting like a generous saint who probably cares for injured birds and ugly orphans. I'm surprised the U.S. government hasn't taken to calling drones goodwill robots.
Finally, let's discuss the f-word.
Not that one, gutter brain. Failure.
Failure is a harsh word that describes, sadly, almost everything. In a recent article about Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Charles Crumm notes the omission of failure in statements like the following: "In terms of things that didn't get accomplished, probably the No. 1 would be on transportation."
That's an extremely useful, if not pithy, turn of phrase that I'm going to start using immediately.
Mom, I didn't fail to get married and produce grandchildren. Grandchildren just didn't get accomplished.
Dad, I didn't fail math. A passing grade and numerical literacy were three things that didn't get accomplished.
Mr. President, the NSA isn't spying on all Americans, monitoring all email and phone activity, and probably implanting brain chips! Privacy simply didn't get accomplished.
Just kidding, NSA! We're good. I was kidding. I'm a kidder.
Please stop zapping my brain.