Euphemisms old and new
Evolving Explanations and Other Non-Fatal Events
As a resident of Chicago and citizen of the great state of Illinois, I feel as though I am in the center of the political cosmos, whence all good and bad things emanate.
Where else has given you, in such a short time, the first black President and the first disgraced former governor with a giant rodent living on his head? You're welcome.
The groundbreaking achievements and sleazy shenanigans of Illinois-propelled politics have also added some euphemisms to the world, for which I am thankful. When Gov. Blago-whatsit filled Obama's senate seat with Roland Burris, who later started changing his tune faster than a jukebox on crack, newspapers struggled to tastefully describe Burris' lies, since lie is the kind of word that makes frail readers cancel their subscriptions, like when Marmaduke fails to appear in the Sunday funnies.
Thankfully for us all, an alliterative acorn of awesomeness has fallen to the ground in several newspaper articles, including a Feb. 24 Chicago Tribune piece, italics mine: "In addition to calls for resignation from an array of fellow Democrats including Gov. Pat Quinn, Burris is facing two investigations into his evolving explanation of whom he contacted and what he did prior to being appointed by Blagojevich to replace President Barack Obama in the Senate."
I can certainly relate to the concept of an evolving explanation. For example, I used to claim that, in my precious free time, I was a vampire-hunting software developer who founded 67 animal shelters across North America. Under threat of perjury, I was forced to admit that I am only a steroid-enhanced secret agent who occasionally saves puppies from drowning. Finally, in the interests of full disclosure, I now acknowledge — more in sadness than in anger — that I am merely a time-traveling pirate who rescues labradoodles from bounty hunters. Whew! Evolution is painful, but the truth feels good. It feels good.
Thankfully, I've compiled other pain-relieving euphemisms to ensure we all feel good, bounty hunters be damned. Enjoy these wonders of language evolution before a rabid English teacher mauls them in their sleep.
I don't know if this term truly meets my rigorous obscurity requirements — it does get almost 50,000 Google hits — but I can't resist such a classic matzo ball of malarkey in the soup of language. A fatal event is death, and I must admit this euphemtastic term rattles the birdcage of mortality somewhat less than the dreaded d-word. That bastion of BS, the airport, seems to be one major user of the term, and some can boast that they don't need to use it often, as shown by a list of "Airlines With No Fatal Events Since 1970." Non-fatal event is used in medical contexts, and since I am a lifelong admirer of activities and recreations that do not result in my basting the formaldehyde turkey, I may even update my online personal ad to include these seductive words: "I enjoy long walks on the beach, huge buckets of ice cream, and other non-fatal events."
As a wee lad, I remember debating another tyke who insisted swear itself was a swear word. What rubbish! It was my first argument ever about words, and I was already on the path to being a language columnist/jerk. I suspect the path of my fellow argument-haver led to a career in a motion-picture warning-label factory, if the warning pervasive language is any indication. Did I miss the moment when the words filthy, obscene, adult, and naughty actually became filthy, obscene, adult, and naughty? Taken literally, pervasive language means language is everywhere, which describes Bible study groups and children's birthday parties as well as raunchy movies. And yet, pervasive language isn't totally useless. I'm reluctant to give marauding Martian warlords any ideas, but I think pervasive language would be an appropriate warning label for the human-infested parts of planet earth, if those regions are ever scooped up by an interplanetary melon-baller and put on display at one of the finer Martian-warlord museums.
If you've ever told friends or neighbors to go to heck, Hallifax, blazes, or h-e-double-hockey-sticks, then you're familiar with some euphemisms for hell. But Ballyhack doesn't appear often in Twitter feeds, so it deserves a lift up from its hidden heckpit of obscurity. The OED traces this mainly New England term back to at least 1843: "It was just the easiest thing in the world for him to blow all Sammy Stonestreet's cherished notions to Ballyhack." Ballyhack was probably too non-catchy to have caught on nationwide, since even the sweet sound of alliteration can't make "going to Ballyhack in a bucket" sound right.
Carlin Conservation Camp
By his own estimation, the soul of the late George Carlin now resides in a garage in Buffalo, NY. I don't know if that garage has wifi, but if it does, I hope the patron comedian of all word-lovers is paying attention. The Carlin Conservation Camp — which sounds a tad like an ecologically minded comedy workshop, full of laughter and recycling and memories that will last a lifetime — is, in fact, a minimum security prison in Carlin, Nevada. Carlin may be the greatest euphemism collector of all time, and it is synchronous — or do I mean horrendous — beyond words that such a weapons-grade euphemism bears his name.
Dear readers, I hope yours truly won't experience such ironies directly, in Cell Block D of a local conservation camp, because my current situation in sweet home Chicago grows ever more corrup— er, evolved, by the moment.
Not that I'm bragging, but no less than four local politicians tried to bribe me whilst I composed this column. Two more will bribe me as you read it. And eight of you will bribe me after reading (hint, hint).