Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Massive Capital Infusions That Don't Need a Description

Political comedy Veep is a show blessed with writers capable of concocting obscenities that are novel and visceral. It's the filthiest show on TV. But it's also a show that cranks out terms on the opposite end of the offensiveness spectrum: euphemisms.

In recent episodes, I've spied a trio of invented euphemisms worthy of real-life double-talkers and four-flushers. One referred to Selina Meyer's mother, who apparently had plastic surgery as often as most people have coffee. According to Selina, her mom had been personally photoshopped.

Another Veepism crawled out of the mouth of scumbag political henchgoon Dan, who sought to cloak his nervous breakdown with a less revealing term: Dan claimed he just had a little psychological indigestion.

Then there's the whopper bumbling press secretary Mike McClintock used as an evasion of bailout, an honest term all politicians flee from like a camper from a nut in a hockey mask. Mike said there was no bailout, just a wee little massive capital infusion.

I didn't receive any massive capital infusions in the past month, but I did spot plenty of malarkey infusions into the lexicon. Please enjoy these terms and their total, utter, baffling lack of clarity.

downtown business district
During the NBA's Western Conference finals, there was an unfortunate incident between Draymond Green and Steven Adams: Green kicked Adams in the crotch. Of course, this magical realm is the source of many euphemisms, some of which were recently celebrated in Slate. Of that batch, my favorite is definitely downtown business district. That just sounds better for the economy than a term like nether regions.

talent calibration
Another month, another downsize-y euphemism sent to me by VT contributor Nancy Friedman. This term turned up in a MediaPost piece by Steve McClellan: "Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group laid off 80 staffers today as part of what the agency network called a 'talent calibration.'" You have to love the phony precision implied by this term: talent calibration implies the scientific application of a fine-tuned doohickey that can measure job performance better than the Bobs in Office Space. Unfortunately, just like the Bobs in that comedy classic, a talent calibration is highly correlated with a professional scythe.

modesty pouch
Because I am a huge dork, I was listening to a commentary from Hannibal season three, and I heard Richard Armitage—who played serial killer Francis Dolarhyde—discussing a certain thingamajig with showrunner Bryan Fuller. This hoosiewhatsit is worn in the downtown business district to create the appearance of nudity. Apparently, the modesty pouch is a common accessory for actors. Outlander actor Sam Heughan revealed an embarrassing pouch-related incident for Design & Trend: "I dropped my modesty pouch in the urinal. But yeah, I had to go and tell someone to get a new one, and obviously they radio the whole crew and everyone knows. It was like, 'Yeah. Thanks, guys.'" That is pretty traumatic. I'm definitely canceling my plans to become the next Scottish actor/heartthrob.

unconscious demotion
This odd-sounding term was recently spotlighted in a Fast Company article. As Suzanne Wertheim writes, "Female doctors are frequently mistaken for nurses or medical students. Female lawyers are assumed to be paralegals or secretaries or court reporters… A sociologist isn't perceived to be a professor by a textbook rep waiting at her door." In each case, a woman or minority is assumed to be in a lower position than they actually are. When we unconsciously demote, we wear glasses made from the same stuff as glass ceilings. Unconscious demotion isn't a terrible term, but unconscious racism or unconscious sexism would be more accurate.

pre-greatness
I've always loved Mike Judge, but it's taken me a few years to check out his HBO comedy Silicon Valley, which is about the ups and downs of a startup in the absurd world of high-stakes tech. One of the main villains of the show is Gavin Belson, the hypercompetitive, tyrannical CEO of Hooli, a stand-in for Google. Belson is determined to crush young Richard Hendrix and the other creators of compression app Pied Piper, but Belson has a problem: his own tech just isn't up to snuff, as he learns when it bungles coverage of a huge MMA fight. After a public embarrassment, Belson shares his view that failure isn't really failure: it's pre-success. Like much of this show's sharp satire, that term is awful enough to be real. The title of the episode is another euphemism: "Adult Content."

Finally, do you know which beers don't need a description?

While at Chicago bar The Piggery watching the NBA Finals, I noticed an interesting phrase on the beer menu. After a detailed list of craft beers from Illinois and around the country, there was a clump of brews such as Budweiser, PBR, and Miller High Life lumped under the label bottles that don't need a description. On the one hand, these beverages don't need a description because they're famous. On the other, realer hand, these beers don't need a description because an honest description would be something like "beers that stink."

This might be a good euphemism to emulate when we're compelled to hurl insults and obscenities at our friends and neighbors. Instead of complaining about idiots and jerks, we could just quietly sigh about people who don't need a description.

When panning terrible movies—like the atrocity that was Batman v Superman—we could just say, "That movie doesn't need a description."

Such phraseology, though lengthy and cumbersome, is well within the nebulous, gaseous spirit of euphemisms, which decline to name the nameable and speak the speakable. The creative, crafty, often kooky world of euphemisms doesn't need a description—and it sure doesn't give one.


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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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