Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

A Load of Non-Core Assets

Garbage is such a trashy word. It suggests rubbish, waste, and, well, garbage. So why not put a positive spin on refuse with the term non-core assets?

In a New Yorker article about financial jargon, John Lancaster demystifies several terms that have been turned on their head by our obfuscating financial overlords: "'Credit' has been reversified: it means debt. 'Inflation' means money being worth less. 'Synergy' means sacking people. 'Risk' means precise mathematical assessment of probability. 'Noncore assets' means garbage."

What a gorgeously euphemistic term! It applies equally well to financial garbage and garbage garbage, not to mention anything else that's not worth a lick.

Fortunately, such a term does not apply to the creative, content-free, cuckoo batch of euphemisms I've gathered since last month. These are all linguistic core assets — as long as you value hooey and hogwash.

employee experience

Maybe I've watched too many episodes of Archer — with drag-racing, fight-club-ing, hard-drinking, HR Director Pam — but the words human resources scare the bejesus out of me. Apparently, I'm not the only one. As an article by Gina O'Reilly notes, "Human Resources conjures images of problems, paperwork, and processes with an unhealthy amount of bureaucracy and red tape." The alternative: "Employee Experience" which "is first and foremost about protecting and supporting employees." That sounds great, but EE still sounds a heckuva lot like HR, proving what my granddaddy told me: you can't put lipstick on a TPS report.

going to Switzerland

The taboo nature of suicide makes it a natural magnet for euphemisms, including going to Switzerland. This isn't a term for any suicide, but rather an assisted suicide, which is easier to obtain there. A lot of death euphemisms involve going someplace, such as crossing over and going to a better place, so this one is a natural.

red zone

Speaking of difficult topics... Here's a horrifying euphemism used by colleges for the period between Labor Day and Thanksgiving: when most sexual assaults occur. Normally, I find euphemisms to be silly and amusing, but to actually use a football term for rape — particularly a term for the area of the field when a team is expected to score — is beyond the pale. Tone-deaf much? I guess if you called this time period the Sexual Assault Season, it would draw too much attention to the epidemic of violence against women on campuses. Ugh.

international object

In the world of professional wrestling — excuse me, sports entertainment, to use another euphemism — bad guys have been getting away with chicanery for decades, including pulling the tights, landing low blows, replacing a referee with his evil twin, and — of course — employing foreign objects to bash opponents in the head. At a weird point in wrestling's history, it occurred to someone that foreign object might offend, I don't know, the foreign object community. So the term international object was hilariously coined. For a ton of other wrestling lingo, check out this great list.

the transformative disease

The Strain is an FX series with a more gruesome take on vampires than most. If you're used to vampires looking dreamy and being in love triangles, you might not be prepared for the hideous, ugly, ravenous vamps that populate this show. As the show's hero Dr. Ephraim "Eph" Goodweather struggles to contain the spread of vampirism, he comes up with an unintentionally hilarious euphemism: the transformative disease. That's a not-so-comforting way of saying, "Holy God, you're turning into an undead, undatable monster."


In the annoying world of Facebook, the innocent word boost has taken on a malarkey-marinated role when it comes to boosted posts. In their explanation of boosting, the Facebook overlords explain, "Boosted posts appear higher in News Feed, so there's a better chance your audience will see them." OK, that doesn't sound so bad, but how do I boost? Do I need special boots? Is a booster chair involved? Nope: just money. A boosted post is simply a paid post. By this logic, a politician on the take isn't corrupt, just boosted.

happiness hero

I swear to Thor I'm not making this term up: I read it in an article on the pros and cons of unique job titles, which itself is a euphemism for euphemistic job titles. As Raubi Marie writes, "There may be a downside... If the titles aren't carefully crafted, this could lead to confusion about job hierarchies, responsibilities and long-term goals. Job titles like 'happiness hero,' for example, are not optimized for online job searches. And potential candidates may find unique job titles tacky, trendy or unappealing." No excrement, Sherlock! I thought maybe Marie was making up the title happiness hero, but it is all too real: there are over 13,000 Google hits for the term. What in God's name does it mean? Apparently, customer support. Oh well. I guess the title could be worse. It could be joy technician.

Speaking of absurd job titles, have you consulted your local milieu coordinator?

While recently strolling down my street, walking my dog, and whistling a happy tune, I noticed a man with a name tag. That in itself was suspect. Even more suspect was the title listed: milieu coordinator.

Great googly moogly, what could that be? Was this man a harbinger of some dystopian future? Was he a time traveler sent back in time to cause that dystopia? How does one coordinate a milieu anyway? Did this have anything to do with Obamacare?

As with happiness hero, there are over 10,000 hits for milieu coordinator, but the job title seems to have just as many meanings. Like snowflakes, no two milieu coordinators are the same — except that they are full of horse apples.

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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:

Friday October 3rd 2014, 10:13 AM
Comment by: Constance M. (Waverly, IA)
Mark - as always, I appreciate the laugh. Additionally your comments on the red zone.
Friday October 3rd 2014, 9:19 PM
Comment by: Ferial E R (Woodbridge United Kingdom)
Mark - you are so funny. You brightened my day
Friday October 10th 2014, 9:31 AM
Comment by: Michelle M.
This is so much fun, I had to share with my 'wordies' friends! Thanks for the snicker!

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