Euphemisms old and new
Jeebly-Beebly! Euphemisms from the Terrestrial Dimension (and St. Louis)
Charlie Sheen's ongoing meltdown has been a godsend for the lexicon. (Read VT supreme commander Ben Zimmer, Slate's Christopher Beam, or me for more.) But what has he done for the wild world of euphemisms?
The ultimate Sheen euphemism is probably bi-winning—a batty denial of the actor's possible bi-polar status. But my fave was coined on March 7, after the news hit that American's favorite Vatican assassin warlock was fired from Two and a Half Men. On that giant of puny journalism, TMZ, Sheen issued this response: "This is very good news. They continue to be in breach, like so many whales. It is a big day of gladness at the Sober Valley Lodge because now I can take all of the bazillions... and I never have to put on those silly shirts for as long as this warlock exists in the terrestrial dimension."
My decoder ring and critical-thinking skills have both been on the fritz since 1994, but I'm pretty sure terrestrial dimension = Earth. This might be the craziest thing Sheen has said so far. When's the last time he was on Earth?
Fortunately, yours truly has been roaming the terrestrial dimension night and day, if by "roaming" you mean lying on the couch, hanging at the coffee shop, and plundering dictionaries and the Web for lexical gold. Here are some of the gnarliest nuggets: use these terms early and often. Nosh on them nightly. Smoosh them in smoothies. Eat them with abandon. They contain absolutely no calories or common sense.
employee dialogue session
One of my employers, who shall go unnamed so they can continue to be so, recently used this humdinger of a term in an email. Like all bloated three-word malarkey-isms—including the much-mocked kinetic military action—it immediately set off my spidey sense, euphemism-dar, and women's intuition (to steal a joke from the late Leslie Nielsen). I guess I can't blame any business for shying away from the term meeting, which is synonymous with real-life pain that's been mined for comedy gold on The Office, Office Space, and Dilbert. Twitter's top humorist (http://twitter.com/badbanana) Tim Siedell has also done the topic proud with tweets such as "My primary objective in any meeting is to end the meeting" and "I didn't have to chew my leg off to get out of that boring meeting, but doing so certainly sent a strong message." Speaking of tweets, I stand by one of my own: "A day without a meeting is like a puppy without a puppy-eating python."
give someone the mitten
Last month, I mentioned the phrase going out for ice cream as a way of not saying "I'm kicking your keister to the curb" to a romantic partner. This month, it's the same topic and an even more euphemistic expression: giving someone the mitten, which I spied in Green's Dictionary of Slang, the recently published and thoroughly amazing work of Mr. Slang, Jonathan Green. This idiom has been used since the mid-1800's, and you can also give someone the frosty hand, the frosty mitt, the frosty paw, and the ice mitt. The OED includes this phrase, and it applies to other sorts of severed relationships, like this use in 1851: "At the Collegiate Institute of Indiana, a student who is expelled is said to get the mitten." I tweeted Jonathan Green for some insight into the term, and he wrote "Mitten = hand. The image is of handing someone a rejection. The hand in question is gloved (distaste?)" I have to say that sounds like a nice way of being dumped. Women are constantly giving me the cinder block.
English has a Jiminy Cricket-load of ways to avoid the word Jesus—like geez, jeepers, and Jehoshaphat—not to mention distortions like Jeebus, a Homer Simpson-ism. I spotted another on Twitter recently: "awwwww! Sweet jeebly-beebly! What a cutie the offspring was! :)" I like jeebly-beebly because, like other reduplicative terms such as higgledy-piggledy and jibber-jabber, it is more fun than a monkey in a top hat juggling kittens. Also, it reminds me of jeezum-peezum, another reduplicated Jesus evasion used by my Jamaican friend Coleen. Green's doesn't list jeezum-peezum, but it includes some close relations: jeezum, jeezum-crow, jeezy peezy, jeezy-wheezy, and jeezle-peezle. Also, jeezly dates from 1938 as a synoynm for darned. Well, I'll be jeezly.
Speaking of terms that make you say "Jumping Jesus on a jackalope!", my other friend Colleen—a writer and waitress—recently had a customer-service experience that included a euphemism as mysterious as a crop circle and much more annoying. A family ran up a $111 bill, but only left $120. Even a tip-challenged schmuck like Larry David would know that's not enough. Seemingly, so did the family, as the dad presented the measly cash along with these words: "Sorry we can't tip more. We're from St. Louis."
This mind-boggling comment is clearly a euphemism—but for what?
Does "We're from St. Louis" mean "We're cheap bastards," thus suggesting all St. Louisans are skinflints?
Maybe it means: "We're rubes! Whee-doggies, we don't know any better."
It could mean: "Man, Chicago is expensive. We're totally out of cash. In fact, we have to sell one of the kids to pay for gas money. Interested?"
We'll never know the answer, but I do know I've found an all-purpose excuse I'm going to drape over my sins, errors, boo-boos, screw-ups, and atrocities like a Snuggie. The next time I fart in church or obliterate the wrong planet with my Death Star, I can explain the ooopsie away: I'm from St. Louis, so cut me some slack.
FYI, I'm also new to the terrestrial dimension.