Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

A Post-Health Trip to Belize

I think I found the euphemism of the year.

(To be fair, fellow contributor Nancy Friedman found it and passed it onto me.)

The term appears in an article on NPR's Scott Simon, who live-tweeted the death of his mother (read the whole article — it's not as awful as it sounds). The article mentioned this tweet: "Discovery: couple who run cremation service delightful company! Warm & funny. Call themselves 'post-health professionals.'"

Post-health! I've seen plenty of deathless euphemisms in my day, but post-health is perhaps the battiest way of avoiding grim-reaper-related lingo ever, though it is, technically, true. When you're dead, you are definitely post-health.

You're also post-sickness, post-Batman, post-brunch, and even post-looking-at-inane-photos-on-Facebook. You're post-everything. Maybe the euphemism should be post.

Laughing at death is the greatest victory we'll ever know against the post-health reaper, so here's another collection of death-y euphemisms. There seems to be an endless supply. Euphemizing death is a huge part of being alive.

acknowledgement money

This opaque term is defined in a 1717 example from the Oxford English Dictionary: "Acknowledgment-money is a Sum of Money paid by some Tenants, at the Death of their Landlord, in Acknowledgment of their new one." Leave it to landlords to come up with an extra fee. Interestingly, the same procedure is followed after the death of a druglord or warlord.


I've been scouring Jeff Prucher's Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction for euphemisms, and it's turned up a few. One is redshirt, which is far from obscure in the world of fandom. Inspired by Star Trek extras who were routinely slaughtered — often while wearing a red uniform — this term is defined by Prucher as "a character who is not portrayed in any depth; an extra; especially one whose main plot function is to be killed." Redshirts are found in any show with a high body count, and they're quite useful to writers, because you can't kill Captain Kirk or his equivalent. You need cannon fodder whose only line might be "Aaaaaaiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeee!"

unmanned aerial vehicle

Speaking of sci-fi, robots were part of such fanciful stories long before they danced, performed surgery, and rained death from above in the real world. As the raining-death-from-above-type robots — drones — have become widely known, the need for euphemisms has grown. As Brian Bennett and Alexei Koseff write in the Los Angeles Times, "Most in the fast-expanding industry won't even use the word, preferring euphemisms like 'unmanned aerial vehicle' and remotely piloted aircraft, rather than the term most people associate with lethal drone strikes by the Obama administration against suspected terrorists from Pakistan to North Africa." Like so many three-word euphemisms, unmanned aerial vehicle is a true triad of twaddle. I still don't understand why flying killbot hasn't caught on.

marine life

Robots have taken many murderous jobs away from carbon-based life, but not all. About a year ago, Christopher Fountain noticed this horrendous euphemism on a sign at a Cape Cod beach, explaining why the beach had been closed. Marine life. Hmm. What kind of marine life? Trout? Tuna? Aquaman? Nah. Marine life consists of great white sharks, who have been known to put a damper on a beach swim.


On a creepier note, this is a term for "A person who hangs around in cemeteries," as Paul McFedries puts it in Word Spy. The term is inspired by death-obsessed Harold from the 1971 movie Harold and Maude.  This could be a useful term. If you're caught grave-robbing, you could plead with the arresting officer, "I'm just Harolding!"

Finally, have you sent anyone on a trip to Belize?

I hope not, because that term — used recently on Breaking Bad by Walter White's sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman — is a euphemism for murder.

(Slight spoilers ahead, but I'll try to write about this in a way that doesn't give away anything specific.)

In the episode "Burial," Saul is having a powwow with Walt about a person who is causing them trouble. Ever mindful of avoiding incriminating statements, Saul hesitantly asks, "Have you given any thought to, uh, sending him on a trip to Belize?"

It's quickly apparent to Walt and the audience that this is Saul's way of asking, "Should we kill this guy, you know, like you killed that other guy?"

Walt is indignant, though he shouldn't be, since he's sent a frightening amount of people to Belize over the course of the show. Walt dismisses the idea sarcastically: "Send him to Belize. I'll send you to Belize." It's a moment of dark comedy and a euphemism for the ages.

Awesomely, the Belize Tourism Board then offered to send the cast and crew of Breaking Bad to Belize in the non-euphemistic sense.

That sounds like a nice offer, but I can't help worrying that "Belize Tourism Board" could be the post-healthiest euphemism of all.

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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 September 4th 2013, 1:38 AM
Comment by: Nic W.
In a past profession as a paramedic, we sometimes referred to the departed as 'metaphysically challenged.'

Gallows humor, for certain.

Wednesday September 4th 2013, 8:44 AM
Comment by: Kathy R. (Canada)
Since we have bought our cemetery plot,I like to say that we have purchased our accommodation for our permanent retirement.
Wednesday September 4th 2013, 10:01 PM
Comment by: Ellen M.
We have redshirts http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RedShirt.
the Big Bad has mooks http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Mooks.

If you have not already discovered TV Tropes (the other wiki) and can afford to fritter more than a few minutes, head on over for the most amazing view of fiction ever created. It's a rich lode of specialty words of fandom and creators, including science fiction, but oh so much more!

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