Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

French Hugging Citizen Scientists in Unscripted Times

Are you a citizen scientist?

I spied that term in an article on wearable gizmos:

Since March, a half-dozen academic studies have been exploring whether the constant stream of data that wearables gather about our bodies offers any clue about who has caught the coronavirus. I've been a guinea pig for two of them, though I prefer the term "citizen scientist."

In this case, the term citizen scientist is cute, like a Pomeranian puppy. A citizen scientist, unlike a guinea pig, can vote and rarely destroys golf courses. But have the dangers and pitfalls of this twaddle-riffic term been considered by the powers that be?

The last thing we want to do is encourage a Doctor Doom-wanna be to open a portal into the Negative Zone, creating a dimensional vortex that annihilates the space-time continuum and everything we hold dear.

Actually, that doesn't sound too bad, given current conditions. Never mind.

Anyhoo, please enjoy the following euphemisms. They are all as freshly squeezed as a glass of hokum juice.

veterinary nurse
Strike that comment about hokum juice. Here's a euphemism, or rebranding or whatever, I can get behind. I noticed this one in an article on the 2020 American Humane Hero Veterinary Nurse Award:

She's [Heather Czerpak] been doing this work since 2009, when she graduated from an 18-month course at what is now Pittsburgh Career Institute. She's a certified veterinary technician and veterinary technician specialist but prefers the term veterinary nurse, which she says is gaining traction nationally.

One of my best friends is a vet tech, and the job is more difficult physically and emotionally than you would believe. Dealing with humongous dogs and stressed owners takes a toll, but the term vet tech makes the job sound menial. For all intensive purposes (to use an eggcorn), vet techs are vet nurses. Make it so, English language.

bear hug
Now there's an innocent, warm term I would never suspect of euphemistic behavior. But in Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of Andre the Giant, Bertrand Hebert and Pat Laprade clear up plenty of myths about the big guy who wrestled around the world and starred in The Princess Bride, and they introduce a bit of word trivia:

"He [an 1800s wrestler called 'French Demon'] is credited with being the first man to introduce the French Hug, which appears to be a move a couple of you may have heard of…the Bear Hug," wrote wrestling historian Jimmy Wheeler.

Like today, it seems some Francophobe is always taking the French out of something, but we’re more likely to discuss freedom fries, freedom kissing, or freedom onion soup.

cold warrior
I am so tired of hearing about boomers, millennials, zoomers, zoofers, zoopers, and every other generation. There are young and old people, and nobody likes each other. I get it. Yawn. But I chuckled briefly after reading this proclamation in the Waco-Tribune Herald:

I am a baby boomer, but I prefer the term "cold warrior." I came of age when the United States was locked in a global confrontation with the Soviet Union. As an American diplomat during those years, I was among the leaders and policymakers who firmly pushed back against Soviet revisionism and expansionism, exposing socialism for the sham it is and bringing it to capitulation.

I guess cold warrior does sound better than baby boomer, which could be the name of a Muppet Babies villain, and the name fits this fella's experience to a capital T. I can't see the term working beyond that, though. I was raised in the era of Star Wars, but I don't call myself rebel scum.

Finally, do you live in unscripted times?

This awkward euphemism takes the place of another awkward euphemism, albeit one that is thrown around constantly, so it seems non-suspicious. As Rodger Dean Duncan writes in Forbes:

There's a lot of talk nowadays about "uncertain times." It's a phrase often denoting the harsh and burdensome changes wrought by a global pandemic. But "uncertain times" seems to imply a lack of control. I prefer the term "unscripted times." To me, that conjures up images of the people we see in business, science, medicine, education and other fields who are knuckling down to make the most of a really rotten situation.

Hey, I am nothing if not in favor of knuckling down. It's my favorite way to get down other than hunkering or listening to 1970s funk.

But uncertain times is itself a ludicrous euphemism, since it has less to do with certainty than times that are absolutely horrible. No one says they're living in uncertain times when they start dating someone or become a parent, though those situations far exceed the daily requirements for uncertainty. We save the term for awful times, ghastly times, apocalyptic times, and dystopic times.

But if Mr. Duncan is so committed to his goofy concept, may I suggest improv times or jazz times?


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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:

Saturday August 8th, 11:11 PM
Comment by: David M.
The thought of living in "scripted times" makes me shudder. It reminds me of the atmosphere of the industrial complex in "Deer In The Works" by Vonnegut. "Unscripted times," for me, suggests a greatly improved situation.
Sunday August 9th, 8:57 AM
Comment by: Sam T. (Tucson, AZ)
It has taken many articles of yours for me to realize that I'm enjoying them. I am actually beginning to look forward to your scripts. Is that what they are? You and Daphne. What gems may be found in your cave. Ever onward. Sam T.
Sunday August 9th, 2:40 PM
Comment by: David M.
Sam T., I felt compelled to comment because what you say so aptly expresses my experience with these articles/scripts! It's made me pause and try to figure out why Mark's articles have grown on me -- I use the phrase with trepidation -- over time. Whatever it is, it's quite a virtue, and one well worth my trying to recognize more precisely, as typically a writer will begin to wear thin. (As an aside, other than Mark and Daphne, I love Orin Hargrave's articles and look forward to seeing them every month as well.)
Wednesday September 16th, 12:15 AM
Comment by: Susan W.
How curious - we call them vet nurses in New Zealand! That's what they study for. Vet tech might be a role in a vet hospital or university, but not at my local vet.

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