Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Engaged, Vintage, Deleted Drivel, Begob!

As an increasingly middle-aged, fortysomething, half-dead corpsicle, I can only be comforted by the thought that things are going to get much, much worse before the sweet release of the grave.

If I ever do achieve the status of what pundits call a "geezer," perhaps I will adopt a term jokingly used in a Syncopated Times article. In a piece about vintage clothing, Adrian Cunningham writes directly to the audience, which is clearly moi: "…you're serious about your fashion and you go to the only trusted source: actual old people. (You prefer the term vintage people.)"

I do prefer it, because I won't accept being an oldster, coot, paleolithic American, or "one of the olds," as the youngs say. However, as a vintage person, I would keep my self-esteem high and my interaction with reality low. I might even be a collector's item.

Anyhoo, here are some of the euphemisms I've scraped, like barnacles, off the bloated boat of language. Do not attempt such hazardous, horsepucky-adjacent collection yourself. You might not have the right malarkey-snorting snorkel.

deleted-family unit
This term popped up during the American Dialect Society's annual meeting, winning WTF Word of the Year. ADS defined it as, "a bureaucratic term that referred to asylum-seeking families whose children were removed." I'm sure those families were greatly comforted to learn their kids weren't actually taken from them and tossed in cages, but simply deleted, like typos. If we could harness the quantum power of George Orwell spinning in his grave, we'd have cheap, clean energy until the sun blows up.

begob
Minced oaths are a classic sort of euphemism, and here's a rare one found in print since at least the late 1800s. The first use, context unknown, at least to me, is from the St. James's Gazette in 1889: "It's Irish, begobs!" This may be a variation of the Irish English term begorra, and other cousins include begar and begad. May I suggest new variations: Begoogle! Begarbage! Begonzo!

skill games
A Virginia Mercury article reveals a rebrand that takes a gamble with euphemistic hooey and loses big. As Ned Oliver writes of some new gaming gizmos:

They look like slot machines. Symbols spin around the screen like slot machines. And when everything lines up just right, they pay out $1,000-plus jackpots like slot machines. But the manufacturers of these games – thousands of which have popped up in bars and convenience stores around Virginia despite a strict prohibition on most kinds of gambling – insist they are not, in fact, slot machines.

So what are they? Skill games. Oh, OK. I guess that makes sense if having a gambling addiction is a skill. Pardon my French, but le sigh.

statesman
As discussed without disgust in a San Antonio Express-News article, a potential city council member pooh-poohs the term politician and considers himself a statesman. Okey-dokey. While statesman is far from a newfangled concoction, it is, as the pundits say, "a bit much" in the context of someone seeking office at the relatively podunk level of a city council. Maybe this doofus was thinking of the Oxford English Dictionary's second meaning of the term: "A person who puts forth political opinions without taking an active role in affairs of state; a person who acts like a politician in a particular sphere, place, etc. Frequently somewhat depreciative." In this case, it's wholeheartedly, 110%, multiversally depreciative. Statesman, schmatesman.

content creator
This hideous term is often used for writers, especially writers paid very little to crank out very much. But a PureWow article on a Bachelor contestant revealed a wackier meaning: Instagram model. This creator of content apparently shuns every permutation of the word model, also preferring the painful circumlocution "creative aspect of social media." Welp, it wouldn't be inaccurate to call euphs the "creative aspect of language." But it would be preposterous.

Finally, are you an engaged academic?

Such status requires no ring, as seen in an article from Harvard's The Crimson about Professor Soha Bayoumi: Bayoumi also brings a consciousness of social justice into her classroom. Though she used to see herself as an activist, she said she now prefers the term "engaged scholar."

Bayoumi explained:

"It does not necessarily erase the tension between being an activist and being an academic. But it highlights the importance of being cognizant of those tensions while also channeling our scholarly efforts, not in propagandistic ways."

Hey, I certainly prefer activism to inactivism. But I also prefer English to gibberish.

Then again, maybe I'm just out of touch. As my knees keep reminding me, I am very, very vintage.


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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:

Thursday February 14th, 1:57 PM
Comment by: Dan F. (Minneapolis, MN)Top 10 Speller
A "content creator" could be also a creator who's untroubled and satisfied.
Tuesday February 19th, 3:20 PM
Comment by: Carissa B.
I'm an Instructional Designer. I make training products. I guess I'm a content creator as well. I'm afraid I don't qualify as a model on social media.

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