Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

All-American Polypragmatists Get Sprizzlefracked


Sorry for the chanting and the giant foam finger. I just wanted to establish that this is a thoroughly all-American column and provide a smooth transition to a term that brings together two of my top two interests: euphemisms and dogs.

The euph came to my attention in stories about how the breed-happy American Kennel Club decided to let mutts into its competitions. Allowing mutts is potentially so calamitous to the breed-conscious, whose sense of poodle-osity is more refined than my sense of anything-osity, that they can't fully admit what they're admitting. Though all manner of poochamajigs can now participate in the agility, rally, and obedience contests, the word mutt remains on the do-not-admit list: instead, they call the mixed mongrels all-Americans, as in "My all-American ate three pairs of my underwear, but I still love my country."

Anyhoo, it's fitting that all-Americans will be banned from the "conformation" contests, which determine how precisely a pooch matches the parameters of its breed. Non-conforming is as American as blowing up your hands with fireworks, and it should be applauded—or at least given a Scooby snack.

Meanwhile, all Visual Thesaurus readers have certainly earned some linguistic treats, in the form of neglected euphemisms rescued from high, wide, far, and those small windows in my field of vision that are unobscured by my trusty bag of Cheesy Poofs. Don't crunch these terms all in one sitting, folks—it could give you a real pain in the commissary department.

commissary department

I owe you an explanation for the pain I so glibly mentioned in the previous sentence; it's a euphemism The Historical Dictionary of American Slang lists as a term for one of the most overworked departments in my own personal bureaucracy: the stomach. Here's a HDAS use from 1873: "A derringer was held against his commissary department." Lacking any formal military training apart from my careful study of the Cylon invasion, I don't know a heckuva lot about commissary, but it seems to have had several meanings, and I gather that this OED-defined sense is relevant: "An officer or official who has charge of the supply of food, stores, and transport, for a body of soldiers." As advancing age and multitudinous pizzas wreak havoc on my own belly, I appreciate the option of writing subtle memos to the shareholders such as, "I have approved significant expansions to my commissary department."


In a welcome justification of my Twitter-holic tendencies, I spotted a tweet by the Speculative Grammarian that introduced me to a euphemism so restaurant-quality it could feed the masses: polypragmatist, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as  "A person who is busy or concerned with many affairs; (formerly) spec. a busybody". It's first use from 1631 is a glorious sentence that demands quoting in full: "The Criticks of this age, who with their friuolous cauils and vnnecessary exceptions, ambush the commendable labours of others, when they themselues will not or dare not either through idlenesse or ignorance, aduenture the expence of one serious hower in any laborious worke intended for the benefit of either Church or Common-weale; and such Polupragmatists this age is full of." With all due respect to that age and other yore-ish eras, ours has taken polypragmatism to unforeseen, semi-obscene levels. In fact, while writing this very sentence, I checked my cell phone, iPod, tricorder, and laser blaster three times each.

go to Nebraska

Folks who remember hiking the Appalachian trail should like this far obscurer expression that was used in a 1989 New Yorker humor piece by the late George W.S. Trow. In "A Man Who Can't Love," he describes several types of romantically challenged men and women, including "The Tomcat," a type described in a letter by a Mary: "My husband admitted to me on our wedding night that he had 'a secret ambition' and it was to populate an entire state. He said that he would be a 'good husband' to me as long as I would 'turn a blind eye' to the fact that he would be having thousands of children by other women. The code word for our deal was 'Nebraska.' It got so I couldn't bear to hear the name of any Midwestern state. Breakfast, lunchtime, dinner, it was always time to 'go to Nebraska,' or 'see the Cornhuskers,' or some similar term." Will the Nebraska tourism committee thank me or stir-fry me for airlifting this term out of obscurity? I'll have to go to Nebraska to find out.


Of all the flippable things in the world, the Readings section of Harper's is near the top, and the June 2010 issue proved no exception. A piece called "Crystal Metaphors" listed euphemisms for meth culled from the Utah Attorney General's office, including yammer bammer, Smurf dope, albino poo, methandfriendsofmine, sliggers, high-speed chicken feed, Tweedle Doo, jib nugget, cha-cha-cha, dingles, horsemumpy, dummy dust, zoiks, spindarella, Devil's dandruff, rosebud, spun ducky woo, and tubbytoast—but my fave is sprizzlefracked. That looks more like a word for being under the influence than the drug itself, but whatever it means, that is a snapping, crackling, popping, ding-dong doozy of a word.

Just as the nasty drug world steals words from such innocents as the Smurfs, Scooby Doo, and the Devil, I insist we steal sprizzlefracked back. It's as fun say as peedoodles, and could be just as accommodating of multiple meanings. May I suggest the following folks as candidates for sprizzlefrackedness:

  • Someone who hasn't slept in three days
  • A poor soul whose tender head has been bonked by a falling flower pot
  • A fan of "Lost"
  • Anyone bamboozled or confuzzled
  • The city of Cleveland, should LeBron James fly the coop

I'm sure my omissions are gaping, so let me know in comments how and where such a gorgeous word could be used. An honorary doctorate in sprizzlefrack-ology could be yours.

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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:

Tuesday July 6th 2010, 4:38 AM
Comment by: Cachelot (Fanore Ireland)
In my hippie days, when I met a hair mate, we often improvised a hashpipe by denting an empty coca cola can and piercing the dent pit with something needle-ish. On one such an occasion, smoking something very mean, I had to cough and blew the particles off and away. Whereupon my buddy grumbled something like: 'There now, have you sprizzlefracked the goodies.' He was from Alaska. If you like to read the whole story, go to 'Dolphin Address', www.janploeg.nl, English Version.
Tuesday July 6th 2010, 10:24 AM
Comment by: Eric E. (Arlington, VA)
Not getting enough sleep or any other condition leading to mental clumsiness - including "Just being one of those days".

I'm feeling pretty damn sprizzlefracked myself.
Tuesday July 6th 2010, 11:15 AM
Comment by: Chris M. (Houston, TX)
I am a caregiver for an ailing wife and I have a doctor who will write a prescription at the drop of a symptom. My wife now has a total of 23 different medictions which are subject to cchange with each doctor visit. My job is to keep all these prescriptions on hand and to administer them to my wife. WQith all my charts, worksheets and order froms for the pharmacy, I am truly sprizzlefracked.
Tuesday July 6th 2010, 5:51 PM
Comment by: Brandon K. (Iowa City, IA)
Though I am sure you are sprizzlefracked, as we all seem to be, where does this quote come from in which polypragmatic derives? I study multitasking and would love to use this quote, if possible.
Tuesday July 6th 2010, 10:08 PM
Comment by: Steve V.
How about being sprizzflefracked after a particularly...amorous evening?

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