Euphemisms old and new
Synergizing Backward Euphemisms
I am a rabid fan of 30 Rock — it recently moved into second place on my all-time beloved sitcom list, still trailing Seinfeld but nudging past Arrested Development and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
In my Good magazine column, I recently looked at the success of the 30 Rock-propelled terms blurgh (kind of a mix of bleah and ugh), lizzing (laughing while whizzing), and mind grapes, a preposterous extension of mind, which I was surprised to see is used commonly, in examples like this ("I only got 11 or 12 hours of sleep last night, I got something on my mind grapes") and this ("Apparently White Castle has sweet potato fries now. That hurts my mind grapes").
But my favorite expression from the show is a bit less common, and a tad more absurd, and three scootches more totally awesome. In the episode "The Fighting Irish," corporate guy Jack Donaghy — after showing Liz Lemon a video of a panda cub sneezing — says, "You have to fire 10% of your staff."
He quickly adds, "We have to synergize backward overflow."
Ah... What a trinity of singular doubletalk! So what's if it's from TV. I've always maintained that a made-up euphemism is still a euphemism, just as a made-up trip to Venus is still an intergalactic incident. OK, bad example, but cut me some slack, you slack-hoarders. Have you ever heard a more spot-on spoof of corporatese? It's an absurdity perfectly in tune with the awful-but-real expressions rightsizing and synergy-related headcount reductions. Thank you, 30 Rock. Thank you.
Anyhoo, we can't worry all day about whether our backward overflow is being synergized or just ground into dog food. We need distractions, like TV and euphemisms, such as the following. I hope they enrich your mind grapes — or at least not stomp them into jelly.
Has poultry discovered the slapshot, much as elephants learned to paint? Not quite. While thumbing through the extraordinary Historical Dictionary of American Slang, I spotted this utterly silly euphemism for something I must name with another evasion: chicken poo. It turns out hockey has a history of meaning both excrement (since 1886) and BS (since 1930). As a former resident of Buffalo, NY, I should find hockey to be the most glorious game ever invented by the gods or the Canadians, but I've never cared for it. So hockey as a euphemism for a boom-boom sounds just about right.
secret squirrel mission
In his Double-Tongued Dictionary, Grant Barrett quotes this paragraph on shenanigans within the New York State governor's security force: "The detail protects the governor, the lieutenant governor, visiting dignitaries and other elected officials deemed to be at risk. But Mr. Wiese so frequently dispatched members of the detail to other duties that State Police officials referred to them as 'secret squirrel missions' and 'colonel missions.'" This tremendous term doesn't sound remotely like the abuse-of-power-y corruption-fest it is. I'm putting it in the CIA suggestion box ASAP.
Book of Basketball author Bill Simmons displays a keen BS detector in his ESPN.com column. He's an expert at identifying NBA general managers who make sofa cushions seem like intellectuals, and a few months ago he mentioned a euphemism that could solve the financial pickles of nearly anyone, even me: "The Lakers sell the 29th pick to the Knicks for cash considerations and pick Toney Douglas. Great name. He sounds like an ESPN Classic fighter. Did we ever figure out what 'cash considerations' means? If I buy a TV from Best Buy, can I tell them that I'd like to pay with cash considerations? What would happen? Could I just walk out of the store with the TV?" I just hope Visual Thesaurus supreme commander Ben Zimmer doesn't get the idea to start paying me with cash considerations, unless such considerations include the use of the secret VT space shuttle.
Well, I hope you enjoyed these euphemisms, and if you didn't, we'll have to go outside, where I'll show you what it's like!
Of course, I am far too great a humanitarian to assault a reader outdoors, and I'm merely segue-ing my way to an expression used in the immortal Seinfeld episode "The Opposite," which has shown so many schlumps and schmucks that, like George Costanza, they too might enjoy greater success, confidence, and spiritual fulfillment if they were "completely ignoring every urge towards common sense and good judgment (they) ever had." As Jerry pointed out: "If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right."
During the ep, George uttered a memorable rant to some loud punks in a movie theater: "Shut your traps and stop kicking the seats! We're trying to watch the movie, and if I have to tell you again, we're gonna take it outside, and I'm gonna show you what it's like."
Through my rigorous scrutiny of the complete Seinfeld DVD collection (maybe the best purchase of my life, aside from my scepter), I learned that this line was lifted by Jerry Seinfeld from a legendary bus bootleg of Buddy Rich, whose cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs-ness was legendary.
But you don't have to be a jazz legend or sitcom buffoon to make this expression work for you.
I'll show you what it's like could be useful at bake sales, book clubs, bowling leagues, and Big Lebowski conventions. It can motivate children, parents, and hostages. If you celebrate Festivus — perhaps the greatest Seinfeld invention of them all — showing someone what it's like will enliven either the airing of the grievances or the feats of strength.
However, showing someone what it's like is frowned upon in more traditional holiday celebrations, unless the someone is a pie.