Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Deterritorialized States, Contingent Faculty, and Mommy Juice

I'm not an Apple guy, but this month I am, because the most egregious euphemisms I've come across since last month hail from the land of Steve-Jobs-istan. As covered in Language Log, "as it turns out" is Apple-ese for unfortunately, and "That's not recommended" replaces any comment remotely equivalent to "Duh!"

To be fair, the second substitution is just good sense. Not many businesses succeed by calling their customers dummies, except whoever writes those For Dummies books. On the other hand, "as it turns out" is a pretty icky way of delivering bad news by wrapping it in a good or neutral package, while absolving Apple of all blame. I only hope other professionals aren't using the same strategy. No one wants to hear these sentences:

"As it turns out, you're fired."

"As it turns out, your fiancé is in a coma."

"As it turns out, an asteroid is headed to Earth, and we have 23 minutes to live."

Unfortunately, I have to move on from this introduction to other obscure euphemisms that have fallen from different lexical trees. Fortunately, none of them are likely to accompany the last rites of your iPod.

have rheumatism in the shoulder

This sounds like something that happens to me when I sleep funny or spend too much time typing—the  unathletic, unmacho, mega-lame ways I hurt myself these days. However, as Green's Dictionary of Slang reveals, this is a euphemism for being arrested, spawned by the less than gentle way a cop might push a suspect around by the shoulder. This one turned up in 1823, but it's no less applicable today. Slight tangent alert: I miss The Shield, which deserves to be mentioned in Best Show Ever discussions with The Wire, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad. Few could cause rheumatism in the shoulder like Vic Mackey.

Chicago typewriter

No trusty tool of a scribe, the Historical Dictionary of American Slang records this 1960s term as referring to a submachine gun. Another synonym for that fearsome weapon is Chicago piano. Just as a frightening amount of slang terms beginning with Irish are synonyms for potato (like Irish apple, Irish apricot, and Irish grape) it seems Chicago is a clue that heat is being packed. However, as a Chicago resident I can assure you that a Chicago-style pizza will only enlarge your midsection, not puncture it.

President Inter-Bush

Many Democrats and Republicans are perpetually divided, caring far more about winning than what's good for America. I also get the feeling each side would love the other to be permanently wiped from the history books as well as the solar system. This annihilating urge is captured in the 2011 30 Rock episode "Everything Sunny All the Time Always," when conservative Jack Donaghy referred to Bill Clinton as President Inter-Bush. Does that make Obama President Outer-Bush? I guess he could be President Inter-Bush II if Jenna shocks the world in 2112.

mommy juice

I recently visited a friend who has, as Shakespeare puts it, peopled the earth (she has two kids). She also has an intriguing term for adult beverages. To distinguish her beer and wine from the contents of her kids' sippy cups, my friend refers to her booze as mommy juice—a term surely worth of inclusion in a future edition of Paul Dickson's Drunk, which I never regret flipping through for its endless list of words for being mizzled. My latest flip turned up Merloaded, materially altered, had his cold tea, Count Drunkula, drunkulent, in bed with one's boots on, and ate the dog. I hope I never get that drunkulent, because I love my dog very much. (Speaking of Dickson, mommy juice would also fit nicely in his Family Words, though it would be a stretch for The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary).

deterritorialized state

A tweet by the OED's Jesse Sheidlower mentioned this term, which was written about in the New York Times by Rosemary Rayfuse: "Rising sea levels could threaten the existence of small island states such as Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and the Maldives. If the international community cannot or will not slow global warming, the least it can do is help those states prepare for life after land by recognizing a new category of state — the deterritorialized state." So deterritorialized means, as Sheidlower puts it, "swallowed by the ocean." However, may I suggest the synonym Atlantis-ized?

Finally, have you ever left an apple on the desk of a contingent faculty member?

In a New Yorker piece, Louis Menand uses a term that applies to one of my own professions: assistant regional warlord—er, adjunct faculty member. Though I've been a contingent faculty member at various colleges over the years, I'd never heard the term. Here's how the American Association of University Professors defines it: "Depending on the institution, they can be known as adjuncts, postdocs, TAs, non-tenure-track faculty, clinical faculty, part-timers, lecturers, instructors, or nonsenate faculty. What they all have in common: they serve in insecure, unsupported positions with little job security and few protections for academic freedom. And they are the vast majority of U.S. faculty today."

This strikes me as one of the more devious euphemisms I've come across in my many years as a malarkey maven, though I do understand the need for delicacy. It might be harder to attract applicants for the position of disposable faculty, replaceable faculty, ephemeral faculty, seasonal faculty, or detachable faculty.

On the other hand, as it turns out, not only our jobs but our very existence is always contingent, as we won't always collect euphemisms and pick daisies on Planet Earth. But who wants to be reminded of that? It could drive you to drink too much mommy juice.

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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 August 3rd 2011, 7:39 AM
Comment by: Nick Shepherd (London United Kingdom)
Do you think, in a few years' time, we shall be able to describe Holland and Bangladesh as "partially deterritorialised states"? This phrase belongs in the same class as "collateral damage", which I undeerstand means "killing people by mistake".

While Republicans and Democrats are butting heads, we in the UK watch our own politicians scoring cheap political points off each other in the House of Commons, while the ship of state drifts gently towards the rocks.

Maybe we can help you? If we can sink the dreaded Murdoch clan, could you not get rid of Newscorp and especially Fox News?

I love your writing

Nick Shepherd
Wednesday August 3rd 2011, 9:57 AM
Comment by: Richard F. (San Diego, CA)
"Collateral damage" is also rather chilling example of "as it turns out".
Wednesday August 3rd 2011, 1:31 PM
Comment by: Don H. (Antioch, CA)Top 10 Commenter
That was great! Thanks! (The Shield really was a lot of fun.)
Wednesday August 3rd 2011, 9:01 PM
Comment by: Ferial E R (Woodbridge United Kingdom)
Friendly fire. 'As it turns out we killed our ally. Very careless!'
A priceless oxymoron
Wednesday August 3rd 2011, 9:33 PM
Comment by: Fiona W. (Portland, OR)
Thank you!

You really should do these twice a month.
Saturday August 6th 2011, 9:38 AM
Comment by: Phil L. (Folsom, CA)
Sorry, but "mommy juice" seems inextricably connected to that which a mother produces for her suckling child.
Wednesday February 15th, 3:18 PM
Comment by: Juwan Parker!
Fiona W.
-I agree with you too, the more the better

Good article/read. Keep on going.

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