Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Jeekers! Regional Euphemisms Go Digital

I've written columns culled from the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) before, but it wasn't easy. I always had to thumb through the pages like a caveman — or beg editor and nice person Joan Hall to send me a list of terms.

No more! Now, finally, DARE is available digitally, allowing this deep well of regional English to be searched easily. This is a bonanza for writers and word nerds everywhere, so get a subscription or take your library hostage until it does so.

My first dip into digital DARE was somewhat predictable: euphemism. Euphemisms are my bread and butter, my peanut butter and jelly, my bacon and more bacon. To celebrate the newly searchable DARE, here are still more euphemisms from our nation's nooks and crannies and towns and counties. Unlike the humpluggins (an imaginary disease) and the high-upum-boofum (an imaginary monster) — these terms are all real.

Lucy Bowles

That sounds like a nice name for the kind of nice girl you'd take home to your nice parents. Nope. In the northeast, it means "Diarrhea; loose bowels." This sound-based term reminds of Lucy, which is a single loose cigarette.

Jeekers

In Massachusetts, Jeekers! is a euphemism for Jesus, whose name has probably been euphemized even more often than it's been taken in vain.

story

Liars like to tell tall tales. In the south, the tendency of prevaricators to tell a tale has been applied to the liar, as in the accusation "You are a story." It won't shock anyone if I point out that most politicians are stories. Also in the south, a lie or liar is a Jacob, a term derived from that rotten Jacob I went to grammar school with — or, more plausibly, the biblical Jacob who lied to his father Isaac.

spaghetti and meatballs

In Maine, this term refers to lobsters that are undersized or illegal. So in the classic Seinfeld episode in which Kramer plunders a lobster trap, the hipster doofus served his friends spaghetti and meatballs.

fancy

That's fancy as in fancy horse, which is a stud horse, which is the kind of horse that violates the parameters of my PG-rated column. Let's just say a fancy horse makes a lot of other little horses. I was just trying to think of a joke about a fancy mother, but my PG brain chip zapped me back to the realm of moral fiber.

the lady's monthly journal

This is a fairly hilarious term for another much-euphemized topic: menstruation. Others include little sister, minnie, and Mother Nature.

Hacklebarney

Bodily functions attract euphemisms like hell attracts hellhounds, but hell is probably the most euphemized place. I really enjoy this colorful term, which is criminally underused. "Go to hell!" is mean. "Go to Hacklebarney!" sounds like a friendly suggestion to visit a small town with a surprisingly vibrant music scene. Similarly, dingnation is used to avoid saying hell or damnation. Only in the world of euphemisms could you endure eternal dingnation in Hacklebarney.

Sam Patch

Of course, the mayor of Hacklebarney's name is also taboo, and in Indiana, the devil is called Sam Patch, as in "What the Sam Patch am I supposed to watch now that Breaking Bad is over?" Since Sam Hill is also a euphemism for the devil or hell, I assume if Satan's first name is Samuel.

drop one's oar

Dropping your oar isn't necessarily nautical. To drop one's oar is to die. I guess this makes as much sense as kicking the bucket, buying the farm, or bronzing the spatula (as they say in East Nowhere.)

boo-dock

This term sounds like something a little kid would come up with, and I guess that's why I like it. The boo-dock is the buttocks.

gold dust

Since this term is from Wisconsin, you would be forgiven for thinking it is a type of cheese. However, you would not be forgiven for eating it, especially by yourself: it is barnyard fertilizer. I guess you can't have enough euphemisms for meadow muffins.

fetch-taked

Along the same lines as dingnation, fetch-taked is an amelioration of damned, as in, "If Ben Affleck isn't a goldurn disgrace to the cowl of Batman, I'll be fetch-taked!" Someone really needs to use DARE as a manual for a one-man Broadway show about Yosemite Sam.

downstairs

While Hacklebarney is a heckuva fun word for hell, there's also something appealing about a plainer and simpler evasion: like downstairs, which is used in several states. This is the kind of euph one might say in hushed tones around the fire: the kind of fire that is less painful and eternal than downstairsfire.


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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 March 5th, 6:10 AM
Comment by: Geoffrey BH (Wallington, Surrey United Kingdom)
It seems curious that the Dictionary of Regional English doesn't appear to have an English region in it!

[Should read "the Dictionary of American Regional English." Fixed now. —Ed.]

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