Euphemisms old and new
Finding Distraction in the Historical Dictionary of American Slang
I've always been a bit of a prepper, but instead of hand grenades and soup cans, I collect books — especially dictionaries. So sometime during this interminable spring of social distancing and horrendous news, I got lost in Jonathan Lighter's wonderful Historical Dictionary of American Slang (HDAS).
I would share euphemisms from the whole dictionary, but it was never completed — one of the saddest stories in the increasingly bleak story of American lexicography. Instead, here's a look at euphemisms just from H, the holiest of slang letters. Even by restricting myself to one letter, I had to leave out plenty. HDAS is a treasure, and slang even more so.
Also a euphemism for heroin, this unassuming letter can take the place of a popular destination spot in the slang lexicon: hell. Others HDAS euphemisms for the infernal regions include Halifax and hallelujah.
Speaking of hell, war is. That's why a tank has been called a hell buggy. Similarly, napalm can be called hell jelly. That's more of a dysphemism than a euphemism, but whatever. Don’t put it on a sandwich.
I don't know why anyone would need an alternative to hat, but slang is about creativity, not necessity. A hair case covers your headbone.
This is the strong stuff, so-named because it will keep you awake long enough to drive 100 miles.
have a hairy canary
The hairy canary is a close relative of our bovine friends — having a hairy canary is just a more hirsute version of having a cow.
This is an alternative to meathead, an insult greatly popularized by All in the Family, which I recall watching on a cave wall during my youth in the days of yore. There's also hamhead. Speaking of words for dum-dums and nitwits, a hollowhead is an airhead.
I've known a few people who call hogs — snore. If I were married to such a person, I think I would need my own moon base.
To hogswallow is to confound, confuzzled, bewilder, and gobsmack. I am hogswallowed by so many things these days.
A hoisting engineer is proficient and practiced at drinking. Hoisting engineers love, for example, hop juice (beer). They may wake up with whiskey in the hair (a hangover).
This isn't a euphemism for the latest plastic surgery routine that gives actors a freaky plastic sheen, not unlike being frozen in carbonite. This is a military term referring to any shower lasting more than three minutes.
I don't know how I missed this word when writing Bullshit: A Lexicon, but this is a synonym for BS, specifically baloney. A load of hooey is a lot of honeyfuggle.
This is a baseball term for an affliction akin to butterfingers. A player with hubcab hands bungles catches and fly balls — the ball bounces off their clumsy paws. I for one would like to see Hubcab Hands become a new Batman villain.
Not sure this is really a euphemism, but it is a reduplicative word — one of my favorites lexical categories. A humma-humma — maybe an alternation of humdinger? — is a ruckus or brouhaha.
Again, not a euphemism, but reduplication makes my heart go pit-a-pat. This term, around since the 1800s, is an alteration of hunky-dory. Hunkum-bunkum does not seem to be a synonym for bunkum and bunk, but if you wanted to use it that way, I can't stop you. Another alteration of hunk-dory is hunky-dunky. Yet another is hunky-doodle.
We're living in times that are far from hunky-doodle, so take care of yourself. If you need to turn off the phone and bury your head in an old dictionary for a few hours, do it. Old words are the only kind of news I can stomach these days. They're a welcome refuge from Halifax.