Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Carbon-restrained Health and Lifestyle Lunacy

Are you so worried about global warming you can't carbon-restrain yourself?

If so, you have a vocabulary term in common with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

At a recent clean energy event in Beijing, Perry mentioned a weird, wacky term, as discussed in an E&E News article by Debra Kahn: "At an event on carbon capture and sequestration, he [Perry] avoided the term 'climate.' He instead used 'carbon-restrained.'"

Holy unholy hyphenate!

I guess the idea is to help the climate without ever acknowledging the overwhelming science on climate change or saying climate. Whatta weasel word.

When I see this awkward term, I can't help but think of diets, since I'm perpetually trying to lead a lifestyle that's more carb-restrained. Sadly, Mother Earth can't really control her own diet when it comes to the carbon smorgasbord we force-feed her.

But we can't resolve the fate of the planet today, or probably ever, so let's escape into the amusing, bonkers world of euphemism. All these words are real but insubstantial, like a vengeful ghost or stubborn denial of science.

revenue volatility
As a freelancer, I know about revenue volatility: my income goes up and down like a shark eating freelancers. But sometimes this term takes on a more ridiculous meaning, as mentioned in a recent NPR piece by Claudio Sanchez, who writes, "'Revenue volatility' has become the euphemism for budget cuts and uncertainty. Many educators worried that the most promising, innovative reforms will inevitably lose support because they're too costly." Volatility does paint a prettier picture of the truth: that America considers education an unnecessary frill, like painting an eagle on your van. Heaven forbid we admit that schools are on the bottom of our collective grocery list.

piminy
Here's a euphemism that went a bit further away from the source than most. Jiminy Christmas (or just Jiminy) is a euphemism for Jesus Christ, which good Christians aren't supposed to shout with the volume of Will Ferrell playing a 1970s newsman. But words don't stop evolving, and Jiminy turned into piminy, which is found since the early 1900s, when it was probably said by my great-great-grandpappy. An unrelated term is niminy-piminy, a synonym for namby-pamby.

executive health and lifestyle practice
This mouthful was coined to avoid a term that's become common and therefore recognizable as rubbish: concierge medicine. To be fair, this new mouthful is more than just a cloaking device: it seems concierge medicine (paying a set amount to a doctor for a year, rather than having a traditional health plan) is becoming more popular and less focused on the Scrooge McDuck set. Some plans even cost under a $100 a month. So this euphemism scores a zillion on the awkward-ometer, but surprisingly low on the evil-ometer.

automated traffic violation enforcement system
Drivers with a lead foot have always been wary of speed cameras, which can transmit their misdeeds to the local equivalent of Smokey. But in recent times the straightforwardly named speed camera has been given a rebrand, at least in Baltimore. A Baltimore Sun article by Ian Duncan says, "The city is avoiding the term 'speed camera' in its description of the program, adopting instead the name 'automated traffic violation enforcement system.'" The Carlin principle is relevant here: the more words, the more malarkey. When a term balloons to three words, that usually signifies a significant level of horsepucky. But when a cockamamie coinage consists of five lexical items, spackled together with gibberish and jargon? That’s a euphemism for the ages—or, excuse me—the previous times in history.

the original writer
If you happen to pick up a reprint of classic comic Miracleman—which doesn't get as much credit as Watchmen for deconstructing superheroes, but should—you might notice an unusual credit: the original writer. Who's that, you may ask? Oh, just Alan Moore, one of the most celebrated and famous writers in comic-book history. But thanks to a tangled legal mess, Moore asked for his name to be removed from all current and future versions of the comic. It's a weird situation, but the original writer does sound kind of cool, like a primordial processor to all scribes in the multiverse.

Finally, have you used a travel designer lately?

I doubt it, unless you're filthy rich, in which case please support my Patreon, or just give me a lot of money, please? Anyhoo, a recent New York Times article declares "Travel Agents? No. Travel 'Designers' Create Strategies, Not Trips."

Such strategies might include, according to writer Joanne Kaufman, '…mother-daughter weekends in the Caribbean, father-son heli-skiing, a romantic husband-and-wife weekend getaway and an elaborate summer trip for the whole family."

Father-son heli-skiing? What?

Apparently, for the ungodly rich, planning vacations requires more foresight and strategery than is usually put into massive military campaigns. Only a Machiavellian mastermind can determine the perfect beach for these persnickety plutocrats, I guess.

Ah well, I can't deny such chess masters of the travel board are indeed cunning—in their branding, at least.


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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:

Monday August 14th, 12:14 AM
Comment by: James M.
Let in the sharks?!?
1. I appreciated both the root and "eupha-mysticism" of "income volatility", in a lot less time than it took to parse the industry code and strained metaphorical aquatic imagery:
"...a freelancer... my income goes up and down like a shark eating freelancers."

2. Whoa! Insulting, and, I suspect, specifically incorrect even if meaning "on average":
"America considers..."., and, "...schools are on the bottom of our collective grocery list."

3. Grammar? "Education", "frill": nouns? "Painting": verb?
"America considers education an unnecessary frill, like painting an eagle on your van."
et. al.
Respectfully - Jim M

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