Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Crude, Anatomical, Off-Broadway Euphemisms

If you like euphemisms half as much as I do, I hope to h-e-double-hockey-sticks you're reading the Fit to Print blog.

This brilliant collection of crapola immortalizes euphemisms and other evasions from the New York Times. One of the most glorious is used in reference to a dude "described between songs with a crude anatomical epithet." I think I can guess which part of the anatomy was mentioned, though I like to imagine it might have been "Ear lobe!" or "Hamstring!"

There are plenty of other amusing examples collected, such as "Bowles uttered an English expletive and left" and "Brady again declared the view beautiful, this time modifying his description with a most un-Zen-like profanity." I wonder if any profanities are Zen-like. Maybe "Sweet fancy Buddha!"

Anyheck, if you love writers tying themselves in knots to avoid naughty words, you will love this blog, just as you will love today's column, which features a wide range of euphemisms that passed through the eyes and ears of my narrow little pinhead. No matter where I run, skip, or prance, I can't escape lexical evasions.


This term was voted Most Outrageous of 2014 by the American Dialect Society, but it may have belonged in the Most Euphemistic category. It means, preposterously, "to kill (someone) with a gun, used ironically by gun control supporters." Here's a characteristic use by @InternetEh: "New trend: AK-47-shaped bumper stickers. A reminder you could be Second Amendmented any time by people who legally own military weapons." This is an interesting euphemism because it uses a soft term to accentuate a harsh reality, rather than hide it. It's kind of like pillow-fighting with a brick in your pillowcase.


This term, like graphic novel, is a euphemism for comic books, a genre that still doesn't get a lot of respect, even though every single movie and TV show seems to be based on them. In an absolutely bonkers comic called The Multiversity—in which Grant Morrison sets each issue in a different DC universe—a version of Batman's son Damian is dating a version of Lex Luthor's daughter Alexis. Damian and Alexis, like other character across the multiverse, learn about a cross-cosmos crisis through comic books, which are actual depictions of other realities. As if all that weren't bizarre enough, the term picto-fic is coined—a term so painful I'm surprised it's not a real term. As Damian asks incredulously, "What's wrong with calling them comic books?"

revitalized citizen

Speaking of comic books, rural horror comic Revival offers a new spin on zombie stories: people in a small town start coming back from the dead, but they're not all drooling zombies, and many retain full intelligence. That required a new term: revitalized citizens, which has a ludicrous flavor, playing on delicate, tip-toeing language from the real world. This coinage makes sense, though. If the dead ever did stop dying, it would confound the medical and religious communities, and we'd need new terms to describe the horror/miracle. If revitalized citizens didn't fly, maybe we could try a Buffy the Vampire Slayer term: undead Americans.

in the straw

Not to brag, but it seems as if every one of my female friends is pregnant. Something must be in the air: something stork-y. Next time I see one of these fertile Myrtles, I'll have to introduce her to this oldish, euphemistic expression. If you're in the straw, you're in childbirth, and when you've given birth, you're out of the straw. Here's a 1772 use collected by the Oxford English Dictionary: "I hope your neighbour, Mrs. G., is safe out of the straw, and the child well." The origin isn't very clear, but it brings to mind a certain deity who was born in a barn. Whenever I think of pregnancy, I can't help by recall in the pudding club: a batty English euphemism I first heard in Harold Pinter's absurdist play The Birthday Party.

race-sensitive admissions policies

Affirmative action is a more serious topic than I usually tackle in this column, but I must follow my euphemism-detecting antennae where they lead. Last year, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor showed a preference for race-sensitive admissions policies over affirmative action, a term that shows wear and tear from being beaten back and forth and upside the head in the political realm for decades. How do you choose between an old, loaded term and a new, euphemistic term? I have no idea. I just work here.


I love the words horsepucky and bullpucky, but they make me wonder: What the heck is pucky and why is it a euphemism for poop? According to Green's Dictionary of Slang, the term may be related to the size and shape of a hockey puck, which is somewhat poo-like in appearance. If true, this origin would distinguish pucky from hockey, which has no relation to the sport that elevated Wayne Gretzky to godhood and puts me to sleep.

Finally, have you recently given or received a Broadway hello?

I sincerely hope not. This term, which I also spied in GDoS, refers to "a friendly greeting that prefaces a homicidal attack."

This might be related to another sense of Broadway as a prison's ground floor, though the association of Broadway with New York City makes sense too, given NYC's reputation as Murder Town, USA.

I love this term, maybe because I tend to hate overly friendly people. From now on, I'm justifying my brush-offs and hasty exists by assuming every friendly face is a murderer's mug.

Besides, I think we can all agree an Irish goodbye is less rude than a Broadway hello.

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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 March 6th 2015, 11:13 AM
Comment by: Mike P. (Seattle, WA)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
>"This is an interesting euphemism because it uses a soft term to accentuate a harsh reality, rather than hide it."

I read this slightly differently, and agree with the original categorization of it as outrageous rather than euphemistic. It's not intended to soften, I think; it has a rub-your-nose-in-it quality that is intended to be as pointed as possible. If anything, it underscores the euphemistic use of "second amendment" by gun advocates (in this case, those who are ideologically opposite of those who use "second amendment" as a verb)--as in the sinister "second amendment remedies" to mean, in effect, armed insurrection.

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