Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Dreaming of Warm Lines and Patriot Pay

Who was that cloth face covering-clad man?

In the strange and scary world of 2020, masks are everywhere, or at least they should be. FYI, wear your bleeping mask.

As with just about everything in the multiverse, mask has a euphemism or three, as seen in many places, including here:

Some authorities prefer the term "cloth face coverings" to differentiate between homemade cloth face masks and the medical-grade masks that healthcare professionals use.

I've seen face coverings in several places too, as in, "You must wear a face covering when entering our vault of germs."

I suppose face covering, on the face of it, so to speak, is clearer than mask — if there were one person in the multiverse not familiar with masks. Heck, Avengers: Endgame is the most successful movie of all-time. I reckon that, given the amount of people not wearing masks in a pandemic, it's best to keep things simple and mono-syllabic. We don't call shirts torso covers or shoes foot houses.

Although if we must avoid the m-word, I humbly suggest piehole lid.

Well, my stress level is somewhere near Pluto and my sanity is hanging by a thread, because 2020. I hope these euphemisms lower your blood pressure a bit or at least provide a smidge of distraction.

patriot pay
As Ben Zimmer — Wall Street Journal columnist and formal Visual Thesaurus grand poohbah — has written:

As part of their latest coronavirus relief bill, House Democrats have proposed establishing a $200 billion "Heroes Fund" to ensure that essential workers who have been on the job during the pandemic will be properly compensated. In the Senate, meanwhile, Mitt Romney has put forward his own plan for giving frontline workers a temporary pay raise, which he calls "Patriot Pay."

Okeydokey, I wish this was a jokey. I appreciate the idea of giving more money to people risking their lives, but this is cynical squared. Patriot pay — also called by the equally obnoxious hero pay — is really hazard pay, a term too accurate to be embraced by anyone.

One of the best things I've ever done was go to Second City and graduate from their writing program. I love writing sketches, and I dig the term sketch because it describes SNL-type short comedy scenes so well: a comedy sketch is much like an artist's sketch: just a small idea not fully developed like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or a Scorsese movie. But some clowns (professionally speaking) may have passed out next to the Dictionary of Hokum and woken with a head full of hooey. Specifically, a sketch group called Consignia call their sketches dreams. Dreams?!? (Sorry for the exclamation sandwich). I once dreamed that I was somehow the father of 14 babies — 12 of them boys. Now that's a dream and it sure wasn't comedy.

warm line
We all need support. Parents in particular, during the coronapocalypse, have been at their wit's end trying to also be teachers to their children, while none one in the family gets a break from each other. But one rebrand of hotline made me raise an eyebrow and reach for my notebook, which is the most exercise I've had in months. An article about a parent-support line includes a lukewarm rebranding:

Noreen Shaprio-Berry, the school department director at Northeast Kingdom Human Services, thought there might be a way to help those parents — at least a little bit. So a few weeks ago, Shaprio-Berry started a parent support hotline…. Actually, Shapiro-Berry prefers the term "warm line" — because she says the line isn't just for people having emergencies, but for anyone who could benefit from having someone to talk to.

Now that I'm writing this up, I feel pretty bad for making fun of this, even slightly. Hey, if warm line encourages a few more people to actually get help, go for it. The point is, take care of your mental health, people. Call a hotline, warm line, or tropical line — just be kind to yourself. And maybe stop reading now if you don't want to be enraged.

In one of my favorite movies, Thor: Ragnarok, an insane blue space god named the Grandmaster has slaves, but he prefers to call them prisoners with jobs. As usual, reality has produced something even more ridiculous, offensive, and vile.

This is a euphemism so offensive I didn't even want to write about it for fear I'd throw my innocent laptop out the window. Brace yourself for this New York Post story:

"We understand the curse that was slavery, white people do," [Passion City Church pastor Louie] Giglio said. "And we say that was bad, but we miss the blessing of slavery, that it actually built up the framework for the world that white people live in and lived in."

He added that he prefers the term "white blessing" instead of the term white privilege.

Hello, evilest euphemism of the year.

Sometimes I want to take a nap and wake up in 2021. Or, to be safe, 3021. See you in the cryogenic freezer, folks.

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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.