Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Euphemizing Some Spicy Meatballs

A recent New York Times article by Jess Bidgood begins with an immortal question: "When is a meatball not a meatball?"

The article is about Allentown, Pennsylvania, mayor Ed Pawlowski, who is facing charges related to fraud, conspiracy, and other crimes befitting a Sneaky Pete. Part of the trial involved some close attention to language:

"The question turned on whether Mr. Strathearn and Mike Fleck, a political consultant for Mr. Pawlowski, were really discussing meatballs — seared, simmered and sauced — in a series of phone calls, or whether they had taken a cue from shady deals of yore and were using 'meatballs' as a code word for a payoff."

Mamma mia!

This delightful and delicious euphemism—a takeout order custom-made for slang doctor Jonathon Green (Green's Dictionary of Slang)—raises many questions. If the meatballs are payoffs, what's the difference between a seared, simmered, and sauced meatball? Was a seared payoff short? Was a simmered payoff late? I assume a sauced payoff had a little extra on it, so everyone involved could wet their beak, to use one of my very favorite expressions (thank you, Godfather Part 2).

If I ever get into the graft game, I'm going to expand this vocabulary even more, with spicy meatballs, vegan meatballs, and Swedish meatballs. Just because you're corrupt doesn't mean you can't have fun.

Anyway, I always let my readers wet their beaks in the deep pool of drivel I've collected from reservoirs of rot and lakes of lunacy. Please enjoy the following euphemisms and consider using them in your love sonnets and fraud trials.

community investment funding
Turns out the British government has some nuclear waste they need to store, and no community is eager to open their arms to the toxic stuff. We've all been there. As reported in The Times, Britain's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is offering a few meatballs to communities in hopes of changing their minds about the whole nuke-storage thing: "It is not officially called a bribe. The government prefers the term 'community investment funding'… But it is difficult to see the offer of up to £42 million as anything other than an inducement to host nuclear waste." That's awkward. Might be time for the Brits to up their payola from meatballs to meatloaf.

geological disposal facility
Speaking of those potential underground dumps, they've got a helluva euphemism: geological disposal facility. Let's hope this thin, leaky lexical shield doesn't foreshadow the safety of the actual dump. When you're asking people to store nuclear waste in or under their backyard, all the euphemisms in the world can't hide the toxicity.

intention
How are your New Year's resolutions going, if you can even remember what they were? That's what I thought. Well, perhaps you, like myself, can soften the blow of your total lack of will power with a rebrand, like the type discussed in the Chanhassen Villager, in which a yoga teacher and entrepreneur named Carole McMonigal said, "I prefer a different word than resolution. I prefer the word 'intention.' For me, the word resolution implies mending, fixing something, repairing. Where there might be areas in our lives that we want to fix or repair, a bigger, broader term such as intention can be used. So I first think of it (intention) as the deepest desires of our hearts, things that we want to call upon and good things that we want more of in our life." All wise words to be sure, but intention also conveys the meaning "There is no way in the multiverse I'm going to actually accomplish this thing, so I might as well get myself off the hook preemptively." But at least I now feel better about my resolution—excuse me, intention—to become U.S. ambassador to Wakanda.

accomplice
These days, the term ally is often used to describe someone who isn't in a group but nonetheless supports that group. You can be an ally of women, black people, transgender people, or anyone if you support their rights rather than try to take them away. But I spied an alternative term that's kind of a euphemism but a lot more useful than the usual mumbo-jumbo. As Waithera Sebatindira writes for Varsity, "I prefer the term 'accomplice'. A white accomplice actively and directly challenges white supremacist people, policies, institutions, and cultural norms. They know they do not have the same stake in the fight, but they are willing to roll up their sleeves and work with PoC at our instruction. The difference is not simply semantic. Accomplices do not just talk about racism, they do something about it." That's kind of inspiring, actually, though the criminal connotation of accomplice might keep this term from spreading too far.

Speaking of the illicit sort of accomplice, I'm still waiting for my meatballs, but thanks for the ziti, wink wink.

In another convergence of foodstuffs and payoffs, Jonathan Wolfe wrote in The New York Times, "Testimony yesterday in the federal graft trial of Joseph Percoco, a close adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, hung briefly on the word 'ziti,' which the star witness said was how Mr. Percoco referred to bribes."

This euphemism comes straight from The Sopranos, proving real-life mobsters love TV as much as the fictional mobsters on that show loved movies.

It makes sense aplenty that food and money go together like a fat wallet and a fatter pastrami sandwich. Without a little cheddar, you can't buy any cheddar.


Rate this article:

Click here to read more articles from Evasive Maneuvers.

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.

Join the conversation

Comments from our users:

Saturday March 17th, 8:09 AM
Comment by: Jon N.
Re your comments about Acompli. May I make a counter comparison. I suppose I am an 'Accomplice' being as I am NOT a white supremacist(your word)yet I certainly understand as would anyone with a hint of historical knowledge that should we take away the contributions to humanity by peoples of European decent we would erase a lot of luxuries we all enjoy.

Your choice of comparison is quite revealing. It just confuses me to no end how an intelligent person can just gloss over, ignor, dismiss, disregard, discount, brush aside, neglect, and/or snub hundreds of years of written/proven history and suggest that being proud of and acknowledging those achievements is 'suppressive'.

Yes, I am an 'accomplice', and like so many others I am not ashamed, nor will I feel guilt for being born white in America! I feel sorry for those who are! Good luck in your 'black' centric world.
Sunday March 18th, 8:12 PM
Comment by: silver (Canada)
Thank you, JON N. Intelligence must mean much more than the strange thinking that originates in the brain of some intellectuals? who then go on to speak, write, and moan about such dribbles of thought. I think some go along with whatever nonsense is out there to be liked and paid well, others submit so the far-left don't terrorize them in various ways /boycotts, social media, and, oh yes, the infamous marches outside their place of business or home where their loved ones reside. Still others actually believe the lies, admitting to being easily manipulated. Oh, enlightened people who are in reality unenlightened, if it were only you who paid for your dribbles. However society must pay in so many ways because of your twisted thinking.Sylvia

Do you have a comment?

Share it with the Visual Thesaurus community.

Your comments:

Sign in to post a comment!

We're sorry, you must be a subscriber to comment.

Click here to subscribe today.

Already a subscriber? Click here to login.