Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Elevating Our Evasive Ecosystem

Euphemism of the year alert!

Traditionally, when one is bitten by a shark, the experience is known as a shark attack, a shark bite, or simple "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!"

But a New York Post article reveals a rebranding effort that can make even myself smile, which doesn't happen often, thanks to depression. The past several years have sucked (spoiler alert). Anyhoo, as Hannah Sparks writes:

Marine experts and advocates in Australia are urging the public to refrain from using the word "attack" in reference to sharks, declaring that the majestic predatory fish has been unfairly stigmatized as a deliberate killer.

Instead, officials have suggested that violent run-ins with sharks be dubbed with more neutral words — such as "interactions."

I could come up with a lot of jokey comparisons, but I can't top the tweet of Jeff Barro, who linked to this article and simply wrote: "shark-involved biting." That's gold, Jerry. Gold.

I hope your interactions are giant-tooth-free, but I doubt they will ever be euphemism-free. And even if you have avoided evasive, vague language all day, boy, did you start reading the wrong column.

elevating our pricing ecosystem
The first rule of Rising Prices Club is make up a lot of gobbledygook about what you're actually doing. A nifty Los Angeles Times article by Matthew Boyle discusses some recent lexical looniness:

If you ask Pampers maker Procter & Gamble Co., it's not raising prices, it's "taking pricing." Rival Unilever, known for Dove soap and Axe body spray, says it's been "very active with pricing." The prize for creativity — so far at least — has been home-improvement retailer Lowe's Cos., whose finance chief told investors Wednesday that it was "elevating our pricing ecosystem."

That last term is the one that made the euphemism light bulb in my head turn on, spin around, fly out my right ear, and begin orbing my head. Holy moly macaroni. Elevating our pricing ecosystem? Like so many ecosystems, this one seems to be trending toward death, at least the death of honesty.

dynamic pricing
Speaking of prices and lying about them, the term surge pricing — already a euphemism for when Uber or Lyft jack up prices — has become too commonly understood to be acceptable of the jacker-uppers. An article in Tech Crunch reveals a fancier fillet of fiddle-faddle: dynamic pricing. Great, nothing takes the sting out of a depleted credit card like dynamism. Oy.

heart-related incident
Among other horrors of the world, Bob Odenkirk recently collapsed while filming Better Call Saul. Odenkirk is one of a handful of actors I actually give a turd about — I downright revere his work, not just on Better Call Saul, but in seminal sketch comedy show Mr. Show and action slugfest Nobody. Truthfully, I like Odenkirk better than 90% of the people who share my DNA, through family ties or illegal cloning. Thankfully, it appears Bob will be OK, but I did raise my eyebrows at the term heart-related incident, which sounds like a clumsy evasion of heart attack. Either way, please avoid future incidents, Mr. Odenkirk. Please.

deep-real
You've probably heard the term deep-fake, an honest term for faked video or audio clips that are realistic enough to further doom our already truth-challenged world. But deep-fake isn't fake enough for some, as seen in an article from the South China Morning Post:

"I prefer the term deep-real to deepfake, because our technology is used in a way I believe is genuine enhancement of human talent and expression," says Jieun Park, the CEO of Pulse9.

Oh, OK. That rebrand will absolutely make me feel better when a deep-real video convinces masses of meatheads of something even more improbable than the idea that a vaccine is worse than a deadly disease. Double oy.

Finally, are you a community helper?

A couple dudes in Guerneville, California, recently took it upon themselves to move an entire homeless encampment, as reported in the Argus Courier. Since these blokes had no authority whatsoever to move anyone, some have labeled them vigilantes, but — natch — they have a term of their own: community helpers.

I have little to contribute to the problem of homelessness, other than making the no-duh observation that in a country as rich as this one, it shouldn't be that hard to give the homeless homes. But I have plenty to contribute to the meaningless, trivial issue of what to call would be do-gooders like the fellas described in this article.

Or maybe it's not that meaningless or trivial. Given the many problems suffered by homeless people, I don't think they need private citizens bossing, hassling, and/or pushing them around.

So let's go with the lexical compromise community vigilantes. Or, as I will think of them henceforth, local jerks.


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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 August 20th, 6:53 AM
Comment by: Adolf V. (Lawrenceville, GA)
Very good and amusing too! Whew, the lengths that people go to obfuscate meaning! George Orwell wrote about this in his novel '1984' with terms such as the 'Ministry of Truth' and 'Newspeak'. The most amusing euphemism that I have ever read was a report in a Utah newspaper reporting the execution of a murderer - he was "jerked to Jesus".
Sunday August 22nd, 10:49 AM
Comment by: Ali C.
LOL funny article, Mark. Also glad Bob is okay 👍
Sunday August 22nd, 12:24 PM
Comment by: Dr. Bob W.
Love the euphemism, shark encounter--does that yield a similar result to a head-on encounter with a train?
Monday August 23rd, 7:14 PM
Comment by: Baradoch
Thanks for revealing to us the euphemism ecosystem.
Wednesday August 25th, 4:08 AM
Comment by: Dan F. (Minneapolis, MN)
Speaking of ecosystems, wasn't "global warming" made more palatable by changing it to "climate change?"
Thursday August 26th, 1:25 PM
Comment by: Dr. Don (Brentwood, CA)Top 10 Commenter
Good article! Thanks!

Reminded me of Mark Twain's wonderful observation that "In certain desperate and trying circumstances, profanity provides a release denied even to prayer."

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