Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Fruits and Flowers and Cheese and Crackers, Oh My!

"Without euphemisms, there could be no good, so it must be good to be euphemistic sometimes."

So said George Washington at his Mount Vernon farm, setting the United States on its course as a euphemism-friendly nation, a path that is our patriotic duty to embrace.

Zzzzzzzzzztttt! A thousand pardons... I've just received a transmission from the VT fact-checkers. Turns out it wasn't George Washington who said that in Virginia during the early years of this county: it was Satan who said it in hell in the South Park movie. And it wasn't about euphemisms, it was about evil. And it wasn't said, it was sung. Other than that, this anecdote is spot on.

So take heed, friends and ferrets! Even if neither the father of the country nor the lord of the underworld ever vouched for the goodness of euphemisms, this much is true: my sources are half-sure that about half the time, they're not half-bad. In fact, they are often groovy, scintillating, neato, exemplary, fab, and—on these cold winter nights—warming as cocoa. Please enjoy these rare but raring-to-go euphemisms, all guaranteed to put a spring in your step and a "huh?" in your term paper.

reproductive artifacts

Children have been called by so many names: house apes, rug rats, crib lizards, the futureThe Arcata Eye's Police Logger Kevin L. Hoover coined another delightful term for children while describing an undelightful spectacle: "A soon-to-be ex-wife reportedly slapped her soon-to-be ex-husband in his soon-to-be ex-non-stinging face in front of their reproductive artifact's elementary school." In recording the shaggy shenanigans of Arcata, California's dizzy denizens, Hoover euphemizes not to hide the truth, but to add literary and humor value for his readers. This Michael Phelps of euphemisms immortalizes the street socialites and young adventurers who reverse-charm or reverse-delight law-abiding citizens, creating many innovative customer experiences and animated conversations, many of which end in a cop consultation, though rarely is anyone dispatched to the cosmos.

geocosmic

Speaking of the cosmos, as I often do, the National Council for Geocosmic Research sounds like a very reputable organization, one that perhaps puts men on moons, probes on Mars, or pigs in space. However, the NCGR performs none of these astro-or-pork-centric services: geocosmic is a euphemism for astrological. Since I am rabidly supposititious—I knock on wood while throwing innocents in volcanoes once a day and twice on Sunday—I'll cease poking fun at the powers-that-be. I don't want to get on the bad side of any cosmic portents, cranky stars, or grudge-holding moons. Geocosmically, I need all the help I can get.

fruits and flowers

Only a deeply disturbed individual could object to fruits and flowers, which can be so gratifying to the belly and schnozz. Yet in the music industry, fruits and flowers refers to the many things bands on tour demand, including drugs, prostitutes, and Odin knows what else. In a more honest world, we could just factor the Sleaze Budget into the financial plan and be done with it. But in the world as we know it, let's instead vow to provide actual fruits and flowers along with "fruits and flowers" the next time we cater to the obscene demands of the megalomaniacal musical acts in our lives—especially during the holidays.

wrong-site surgery

It's such a bummer when surgery happens in the surgeon's gazebo. Wait, I'm getting another transmission of truth... This does term does not, repeat, does not refer to surgical procedures conducted outside the sanctity of the operating room. It seems wrong-site surgery is doctorese for, "Ay caramba! I just removed the left lung instead of the right lung." The good news? According to a helpful website, making the patient's pre-surgery preparation into an arts and crafts project can guide the wayward sawbones: "Ask to have the surgical site marked with a permanent marker and to be involved in marking the site. This means that the site cannot be easily overlooked or confused (for example, surgery on the right knee instead of the left knee)."

cheese and crackers

Though victims of wrong-site surgery may require stronger words, the mild oath is a euphemistic specialty that is pleasing to adults and suitable for reproductive artifacts. The Dictionary of America Regional English lists "Cheese and crackers!" as a mega-mild variation of "Jesus Christ!" that can be used after a sneeze, though it is no substitute for a tissue. Other lactose-heavy, kindergarten-friendly exclamations include "Cheese and crust!" and "Cheesecakes!"

Exclamatory creativity is a virtue even wingnuts and moonbats can agree is good for America. I'd give a shiny quarter to see out-there exclamations such as "Cheese and crackers!", "Mother Mary on a motorboat!", and the Ron Burgundy-isms "Knights of Columbus!" and "Hot pot of coffee!" stampeding across the lexical plains in greater numbers. Perhaps you can slip one into your New Year's resolutions or State of the Union speech.

By the galloping gophers of Godot, even George Washington would be OK with 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 January 7th 2009, 11:55 AM
Comment by: Paul A.
Love yer stuff, buddy.
Wednesday January 7th 2009, 1:54 PM
Comment by: Kimberly C.
Thanks for the abdominals (belly laughs). My own favorite expletive save: "God...bless us everyone!" (From the perils of "damn it" to the sweetness of Tiny Tim in seconds flat!)
Wednesday January 7th 2009, 5:45 PM
Comment by: Mark P. (Chicago, IL)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Thanks Paul and Kimberly...

By the way, all exclamation mavens should read Zounds! ( http://www.amazon.com/ZOUNDS-Dictionary-Interjections-Mark-Dunn/dp/0312330804)

Fantastic book!
Thursday January 15th 2009, 8:56 AM
Comment by: Magda Pecsenye
You said "Hot pot of coffee!"
Tuesday January 20th 2009, 3:02 PM
Comment by: Mark P. (Chicago, IL)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Postscript: I was watching a first season rerun of 30 Rock, and I heard Kenneth the page say "Cheese and crackers!" Glad that's still got some juice.
Thursday February 26th 2009, 1:04 PM
Comment by: Karen June M.
My endorphins had babies! Thanks for a great read!
Thursday February 26th 2009, 3:47 PM
Comment by: Karen June M.
Hi again...

I was just reading this to my husband and was reminded of a couple of things.

There is a joke that goes like this...

Doctor: [To patient.] Well, I've got good news and bad news...
Patient: Yes?
Doctor: First the bad news. We amputated the wrong leg. Now, the good news is, we discovered that we didn't need to amputate the other leg after all.

Also, my father-in-law used "Jumpin' Jeeee-hoshaphat" as his non-offensive exclamation. You are so right about needing creativity where there is often a flood of expletives used generally as punctuation. Any moron can curse. When euphemisms replace the mundane, vulgar curses, speech becomes imaginative and witty as it packs its punch.
Saturday February 28th 2009, 1:47 PM
Comment by: julie B. (Austin, TX)
Karen's joke reminded me of my father's Ozarkian (sp?), black sense of humor:

"She wouldn't be happy if you hung her with a new rope"

Tickles me.

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Euphemtastic!
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