Euphemisms old and new
Holy Pretzel! Euphemisms from Green's Dictionary of Slang
The current love of my life is Green's Dictionary of Slang: an enormous, meticulous, ridiculously wonderful historical dictionary that's the biggest slang collection ever made (uncurated Wiki-crapola like Urban Dictionary doesn't count). Jonathon Green's slangapalooza is an extraordinary source for fulfilling this column's mission: finding under-the-radar euphemisms.
Euphemisms, you say? Isn't slang more dysphemic? Well, sure. The dysphemism is the euphemism's drunk, embarrassing, honest twin. Calling cigarettes and electric chairs coffin sticks and sizzle seats are great examples. When you refer to a pile of cash as a wad that would choke a wombat or a lunatic asylum as a giggle academy, you're solidly in the dysphemic realm. That's pretty much the slang wheelhouse.
And yet, as Green has shown, the slang wheelhouse is larger than any of us could have imagined. In three huge volumes — with tissue-thin paper and tiny print — there are oodles of terms that are dainty, obfuscating, batty, and concealing. Here are a few of the most delightful dumplings of doublespeak: all new to me until Green's came along. Warning: they may make you scratch your top-hamper (head).
have a man for breakfast
Get your mind out of the gutter and into the morgue: this one means "to discover a murdered body when one wakes in the morning," and it's been around since the rootin-tootin' cowpoke-shootin' era of 1863. I bet Yosemite Sam would love to have a varmint for breakfast.
have one's little hat on
As fans of Paul Dickson's magnificent collection Drunk know, there are roughly a bazillion and a half terms for being stinko, like blotto. A new one to me was to have one's little hat on. Warning to teachers and writers: never have more than two hats on while grading a paper or writing one.
Mr. Palmer is concerned
Here's an idiom that should make everyone named Palmer offended — except the crooks. This phrase, used since 1812, means "the matter involves bribery". Since I live in Chicago, where the corruption is thicker than the pizza, I'm going to start using this phrase immediately. It may help me get around a few wire-tap problems I've been having at the Euphemism Manor.
This is a term for menstruation used since 1919. I flunked health class, but I don't think you can pay this bill online.
go between the moon and the milkman
That sounds so poetic, but as with so much slang, it refers to something sketchy, specifically: "to abscond from a house or flat, taking one's furniture and possessions, but avoiding payment of any outstanding rent, utility bills, etc." That's shady behavior in any era, even back in the late 1800's, when milkmen still roamed the earth.
A dingledork is a dingleberry, a concept beloved by all — at least all of us who are twelve. I can't think of dingle-whatevers without recalling the words of my favorite comedian, the late George Carlin, whose Life is Worth Losing DVD contains this trenchant commentary: "Another word you don't hear too often is dingleberries. You know, you never hear it on Meet the Press. The dingleberry solution. Dingleberry-gate. Nothing." Even beyond the grave, Carlin identified exactly what's missing from politics today. Operation Odyssey Dawn sounds silly. Operation Dingleberry Destiny would sound sublime.
see a man about a duck
Speaking of the bathroom, I knew seeing a man about a dog meant to drop the kids off at the pool, but I never knew you could see a man about a bow-wow, rose, horse, or duck — all variations recorded by Green. You can also "see a cat about a horse," but I prefer the quacky version. I have a soft spot for Peking duck, Daffy Duck, Scrooge McDuck, and Gary Larson's duck-centric cartoons. Though The Far Side is best remembered for the cows, Larson's ducks are underrated. In fact, when I die, please put these words on my tombstone: "So, Professor Jenkins! ... My old nemesis! ... We meet again, but this time the advantage is mine! Ha! Ha! Ha!"
The meaning of this term is neither sophisticated nor lady-like — it's cocaine. Less euphemistic coke synonyms in Green's include showbiz sherbet and Bolivian marching powder. Man, who needs drugs when you have such mind-altering words?
In the interests of journalism — and finding an excuse to email one of my lexicographical heroes — I wrote Green and asked for some of his favorite euphs. Mr. Slang mentioned some wonderful examples that "over-egg the custard by underlining their euphemistic sidestepping with puns". Unfortunately, most of his faves also over-egg the obscenity level I can mention in this column. Bummer.
However, I can get away with mentioning one Green suggestion: "Anodyne necklace, hangman's noose, it's a 'pain killer'." Hanging (along with death in general) is oft-mentioned in Green's. John roper's window is a noose and to take the morning stroll is to be hanged. Such euphemisms are pain-killers themselves. If the human race is Dr. House, our vocabulary is an endless bottle of Vicodin, getting us through the day.
I'll take the morning stroll if you don't believe these terms are just the tip of the tip of the tip of the slangberg. If you have a chance to buy, browse, or steal Green's Dictionary of Slang, do it. I could lend you my copy, but you'll have to talk to my friend Mr. Palmer first. He is quite concerned, and who can blame him?