Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Non-Thinking-Type Think Pieces

I'm no peevologist. I will gladly begin a sentence with a conjunction and end it with a preposition. I love the word moist, and I couldn't care less about irregardless. I write about euphemisms because I love them, not because I want to see them wiped from the face of the Earth.

Still, we’re all peevers sometimes — as Henry Hitchings knows. Once in a while, a euphemism angries up my blood. In this case, the offender is think piece.

I’ve been seeing this term over and over again, mainly in reference to the hubbub over Lena Dunham’s new comedy Girls, which Donald Borenstein describes as “The Show That Launched a Thousand Think Pieces.” Meanwhile, Maureen Ryan  notes that “...you can't swing a cat without hitting another think piece about the lack of diversity on ‘Girls.’” In a prelude to his obligatory Girls commentary, Noel Murray mentions how the return of Mad Men spawned endless “reviews, interviews, and think-pieces.” No one, it seems, is writing any blog posts or columns; everything’s a think piece, which I think is annoying.

I may be a victim of the recency effect, because think piece is far from a new term. The Oxford English Dictionary defines think piece as “an article containing discussion, analysis, or opinion, as opposed to fact or news” and traces it back to 1936: “The emergence of speculation on Cabinet revisions as a favorite theme for think pieces is in itself a reflection of the present lack of the stuff of which news is made.” So some of the writing about Girls probably qualifies, technically, as think pieces. But calling them think pieces also qualifies as malarkey, because think piece is being used as a way of not saying blog post or column. “My blog post on Girls” just doesn’t sound as special and NPR-worthy as “My think piece on Girls,” does it? Even column sounds blah, like bread-bread compared to artisan bread.

Overuse of think piece reminds me of a phrase that has always annoyed me: “I think too much,” which reeks of humblebragging, self-aggrandizing, and tone-deafness. If you have to tell me you’re thinking, you might need to think a little more, at least until you come up with words that don’t make you sound like a pretentious twit.

Rant over! Let’s move on to terms that do not burn my toast, but rather warm my cocoa. Please enjoy these euphemisms. Use them in your tweets, toasts, and testimony — but for the love of Thor, not your think pieces.

dispassionate

Usually, dispassionate is used in a positive sense, when referring to dispassionate researchers or judges. While watching the NBA, I heard it used in a different and far more euphemistic way, as announcer Mike Tirico said, of a Dallas Mavericks vs L.A. Lakers game, “It’s been a dispassionate first half.” Did he mean the likes of Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bynum played the game with the cold precision of surgeons, not letting emotions cloud their game? Nah. In reality, both teams played with the enthusiasm of corpses. They were lazy, uninspired, and slothful — or, dispassionate, in Tirico’s optimistic world.

Moneyed American

I was recently catching up on Word Soup, a wonderful Wordnik feature that brings you “strange, obscure, unbelievable (and sometimes NSFW) words.” One of the most humorous and topical terms featured was coined in a conversation on The Daily Show back in November, as Jon Stewart mentioned one percenters — a term for the ultra-rich inspired by the Occupy movement — only for John Hodgman to clarify “We prefer the term Moneyed Americans.” Hey, at least that’s more honest than job creator. Movie idea: How about a romcom where Moneyed Americans are chased and eaten by Undead Americans?

Alaska divorce

When I reviewed Richard M. Bailey’s Speaking American, I came across this understated term for a sinister act: killing your spouse. I found a vivid elaboration on a message board: “An alaskan divorce is when you take your sweetheart out fishing, and make camp. Then you say ‘Honey, after that long drive you go ahead and finish your nap...I'm gonna go drown a worm’ (fish). Then as you leave to go fishing, you lay 2 strips of RAW bacon across the top of the tent. I hear it works every time.:evil:” I think we all can learn a lesson from this disturbing definition: bacon is delicious.

Finally, do you prefer your people thinking-type or non-thinking-type?

In a recent New Yorker article by Ryan Lizza, an anonymous person has a unique way of describing some Mitt Romney ads from this never-ending election season: “Romney hasn’t taken them off, and I think they’re despicable. They’re only geared for a non-thinking-type person. And the non-thinking-type person has a lot of votes, especially in this town.”

Obviously, non-thinking-type person is a sugar-coated, Splenda-sprinkled, mealy-mouthed way of avoiding words such as idiot, dummy, and moron, which are as politically apt as they are politically incorrect. This is an evasion for the ages, but it does have precedents. Non-thinking type person is reminiscent of the infamous low-information voter, which in turn brings to mind low-information rationality. That high-poppycock term refers to decision-making that doesn’t involve the thinkbone — or a think piece, I pray.


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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 May 2nd 2012, 7:49 AM
Comment by: Roger Dee (Haslett, MI)Top 10 Commenter
My most unfavorite one is DISINGUENUOUS.
Others, 24/7, end of the day, the full plate, heavy lifting, etc.
Most of them seem to first appear on the broadcast medium.
Wednesday May 2nd 2012, 8:08 AM
Comment by: begum F.Top 10 Commenter
So many new terms coined in our euphemism world.
Non Thinking type, Moneyed Americans, Undead Americans, Think Piece, and Alaskan Divorce all the jokes are of killer types.
The creators of these euphemistic words are definitely "Nondead" thinkers along with the VT column writer Mr. Mark.
So are his fans and readers like me. We are alive because we know how to share our thoughts and Think piece with the VT group.
Thank you again.
Thursday May 3rd 2012, 8:59 AM
Comment by: Thomas B. (Napa, CA)
Any word is a good word it is the magic and skill of the writer and how they use the word in a sentence that makes the difference. Try some alliteration, give it a rhyme or fit it into a cadence of some sort. Our imaginations need to be brought out and used, conforming to the current style and popular tastes is what creates dullness. Our language is always in flux and the efforts to take the ordinary and inject humor, whimsy and mirth along with the titillation of our alleged mind is what words and their arrangement are all about.

A logophile with a smile,
Tom Brown
Wednesday May 9th 2012, 6:28 PM
Comment by: mike H. (san diego, CA)
Well, pedoodle. Erin Brenner was waxing on about "hopefully" taking the place of 6 words Maybe if you used that mindset, 'tp' might warm the cocoa more.

Mike

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