Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Fiercely Real Humanism and Other Hooey in the Physical Distancing Age

From the time I started writing this column till now, the whole world has gone to hell — or, h-e-double-hockey-sticks, I suppose I should say.

I have it much, much easier than most, since I work at home. I'm like a cockroach. Or a rat. Or a rat-cockroach hybrid, designed to survive this particular apocalypse. But even as a ratroach, I feel like I'm losing my mind.

On a mundane level, I am dearly missing Chicago's bookstores, restaurants, bars, theaters, museums, arcades, and now even the parks.

On a more serious level, I'm terrified for my mom, who is in a nursing home, and my dad, who can't visit her and is at high risk himself.

So, as I try to keep myself from slipping into a mental abyss, I am comforted by euphemisms. They haven't closed up shop, and they never will as long as there are Earthlings.

One is related to the crisis: physical distancing.

This term is meant to alleviate the sting of social distancing. Well, guess what, the term doesn't help at all, so just stop it.

Social distancing, in case you've been living under all the rocks, is crucial to minimizing this crisis. Everyone understands it (whether they follow it or not) so the last we think we need is another term, 'kay? Yes, physical distancing is very clear and more accurate, but it's a runner-up in a contest that's over. People are smart enough to understand that social distancing doesn't mean don't call, text, email, or video chat your friends. Although if you're one of my friends, please don't video-chat me — let's stick to a normal phone call. I'm not ready to resort to Skype or cannibalism.

So, in the spirit of doing normal things in an abnormal time, here are some euphemisms.

new religious movement
Do you have a self-proclaimed beloved leader? Are you an adherent of a faith created in the last week? Are you part of a group with matching tattoos who believe the real origin of the Earth involves the sun and moon making a baby? Then you may be part of a new religious movement. Or, as the succinct would say, a cult. A religion professor uses the lengthier term in a course name, as discussed here:

The purpose of the class is to challenge misconceptions and provide students with exposure to different viewpoints, even if they don't necessarily agree with those views, according to Bivins. He said although the class contains the word "cult" in the title, he prefers the term "new religious movements" because it allows students to examine religions from a more neutral perspective.

Funny how "a more neutral perspective" pairs so well with bunk and poppycock. I pray this term doesn't catch on. If I have to change the name of my Serpent Cult to Serpent New Religious Movement, I'm going to have to make a lot of new signs and business cards.

While catching up on the new season of Better Call Saul — my favorite TV drama these days — I noticed a little euph amongst the incredible acting and storytelling. Gus Fring, drug and chicken kingpin, is in the midst of a massive construction project that will result in the superlab seen in Breaking Bad. But that information is hush-hush, especially to other cartel members. One of his bragging points is that none of his chickens are frozen, as seen in this exchange with Gus' nemesis/cartel colleague Lalo:

Gus: "When finished, this will be the most advanced inline chilling system in the southwest."

Lalo: "A chicken freezer?"
Gus: "Chiller. Our product is never frozen."

Man, even the chicken business is full of horsefeathers.

returning citizen
Though I scoff and jest and weep tears of blood at euphemisms, very few actually get my blood pressure up — and once in a while I see a euphemism that makes a lot of sense. An article on Marcus Bullock quotes him as saying, "I'm a former inmate who became a tech CEO" and that he considers himself a returning citizen instead. Considering the stigma attached to anyone who's served time, this is more than reasonable. We should throw ex-con in the same bin pod with former inmate.

Finally, are you small, medium, or fiercely real?

If you're fiercely real, you're plus-size — or, gasp — large. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

This self-esteem-embiggening term raised its empowering head in a Business Insider article:

Tyra Banks has also said she feels the term "plus-size" carries a stigma. She said she prefers the term "fiercely real"

"On 'Top Model,' we call it fiercely real. I don't want to use the term "plus-size," because, to me, what the hell is that? It just doesn't have a positive connotation to it. I tend to not use it," Banks told E! News.

Hello, Euphemism of the Year contender. This is even further detached from reality and the known universe than Emma Watson's use of self-partnered to mean single. This is as ghastly a glob of gobbledygook as alternative facts (though nowhere near as evil).

Best of all, it's harmless and has nothing to do with the coronavirus. Reality has gotten too fiercely real for me.

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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.