Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Auditing Imaginary Companions Through Mental Training

One of my favorite Jack Handey jokes is: "Of all my imaginary friends, I don't think there was one that I didn't end up having to kill."

Such imaginary homicides may be even easier in the future, thanks to a rebrand in the imaginary community discussed in Psychology Today:

Tracy Gleason, a professor of psychology at Wellesley College, prefers the term imaginary companion because not all the relationships are friendships. Gleason says children with imaginary companions tend to enjoy social interaction. When they don't have it, they invent it. "When you have an imaginary companion, you're inventing a relationship. And so, to some extent, you are obtaining all the benefits of that kind of relationship," she says. "A lot of kids will think about what it is like to have a friend who doesn't want to play with them. They think about how that would feel, what they might say. It's a safe space in which to do all of that experimentation and all that thinking because no actual relationship is on the line."

Hey, in the days of Covid, I'm sure many of us have rediscovered the imaginary companion — or at the very least had some meaningful discussion about infrastructure with our houseplants. Not that I would know anything about that. I only discuss such critical issues with my dog.

After consultation with my imaginary friends and enemies, I've assembled a month's share of euphemisms that are, much to our chagrin, real.

sport adventure vehicle
I'm not a big car guy, but I know a lexical flim-flam when I see one. In Car and Driver, John Pearly Huffman wrote, "Hyundai prefers the term 'Sport Adventure Vehicle' over 'truck' to describe the new Santa Cruz. Okay, whatever. But it sure looks truck-ish, if not strictly a truck." Longtime euphemism watchers will detect a classic technique here: the three-word salad. When it takes three words to express what one word coulda, you know you're deep in the malarkey zone.

minister of justice
It's not easy being a prosecutor. Or maybe it is, I have no idea. But one prosecutor would like to give his title an edit. An article about Michigan prosecutor David Leyton, who received an award, contained this quote from Leyton: "Those of you know me, know that I don't always refer to myself as 'prosecuting attorney,' I prefer the term 'minister of justice.' Hey, I would too. In fact, if I ever find myself employed as a prosecuting attorney, I will strongly consider calling myself Doctor Justice, Mr. Fantastic Justice, or Justice Man and his faithful pet sidekick, the Truth Doodle.

mental training coach
Everyone is probably familiar with the term sports psychologist, a mental health professional capable of getting even the most leathery football player to talk about its mother, or maybe how to demolish a quarterback quilt-free. But, as in every darn profession, some members feel they are undernamed. To wit:

While [Dr. Dean] Tripp is a licensed psychologist, he prefers the term of mental training coach over sports psychologist because he isn't doing a psychologist's work with Gaels—he's training their minds to respond more effectively, be it to help elevate focus or alleviate performance anxiety.

Fair enough, though such terminology triggers memories implanted when I was a wee lad discovering the joys of X-Men comics, including the telepathic gymnastics of Charles Xavier, later played to perfection in the movies by Patrick Stewart. Mental training coach sounds like the kinda dude who could teach me to read my neighbor's mind, which would greatly help me understand why they keep bellowing about their business. A mental training coach might also be that rare sensei who could teach me to move objects with my mind, allowing me to wreak telekinetic havoc on the world with various pranks and tomfoolery. I've been meaning to catch up on my tomfoolery for years.

I don't know if I've had enough mental training to discuss this term without throwing my laptop through the window, but I can't omit the most glaring and galling recent euphemism: Anglo-Saxon. As Adam Server wrote for The Atlantic, "'Anglo-Saxon' Is What You Say When 'Whites Only' Is Too Inclusive." The topic came up when some Republicans I won't name proposed a new caucus devoted to "Anglo-Saxon political traditions." Fortunately, the new caucus was DOA for obvious reasons and quickly abandoned. If it looks like white supremacy, smells like white supremacy, and walks like white supremacy, you're gonna need a bigger cloaking device than Anglo-Saxon.

Finally, have you been audited lately?

In the new movie Nobody, Bob Odenkirk, who had previously made the move from comedy star to dramatic lead, makes the punchy move to action star. But he doesn't appear ready for any kind of action at the beginning of the movie.

Odenkirk's Hutch Mansell appears to be a beleaguered, stereotypical suburban dad who was merely an auditor in the service, but that soporific word conceals a profession more fitting for the movies: government assassin.

So let's hope we can all avoid both kinds of audits. Death and taxes may be unavoidable, but auditing is just rude.

Click here to read more articles from Evasive Maneuvers.

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.