Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Frozen Associates (and Other Inexpressibles) in the Life Celebration Home

Like NyQuil, a good euphemism can quiet the mind, induce sleep, and stop you from coughing up unpleasant things, like truth or phlegm.

Unlike NyQuil, not all euphemisms are available in local drug stores. For the fine euphemism connoisseur, I hope you'll enjoy these lesser-known dances around the truth — their lexical jigs may be unfamiliar, but their style is unmistakable, in this land of purple majesties, low-information voters, and rhetorical flourishes.

life celebration home

Death is one of the most euphemism-provoking topics of them all, as you well know if you've ever heard about someone who bought the farm, met the reaper, answered the last call, crossed the great divide, climbed the golden stair, went the way of all flesh, awoke to life immortal, or basted the formaldehyde turkey. Though approximately 100% of morticians have resisted that turkey idiom, a few have taken to the name life celebration home, presumably because there is something, well ... funeral-y about the term funeral home. I think I just heard George Carlin spinning in his life-celebration container.

gazelle in the garden

I once had a bearded friend who alwaysand I mean always — had food in his beard. No forensic training was necessary to determine the contents of his past three meals, let's put it that way. Since meeting him, I developed a phobia about my beard: I always fear that it too has gazelles in the garden, a lovely euphemism for a gross state of affairs, collected in Paul Dickson's Family Words. The term was reported by Jane Tukey of Bangor, Maine, who said the dudes in her family tree have traditionally been "bewhiskered," so there was a lot of garden available. The term lives on in Tukey's family, and I intend to adopt it myself, adding a folksy flavor to my otherwise paranoid, fussy, and unseemly mealtime terror.


Since euphemism-collecting doesn't burn as many calories as you would think, I try to while away a few minutes a day at the gym. I can only tolerate physical activity when pretty pictures are involved, so I stick to TV-bearing exercise machines, and one of these sweet boredom-relievers was kind enough to also provide me with a euphemism. On a reality show I couldn't identify — but might be Rock of Love Girls: Charm School 2 — Ozzy-marrying Sharon Osbourne said, "The losing team will be eligible for expulsion." Some quick googling and dictionary-ing confirmed my sense that eligibility tends to be for desirable-though-legalish things, like grants, tax cuts, child support, loans, voting, the Olympics, and other goodies. Johnny Cash didn't sing that an egg-sucking dog was eligible for a stomping, and rarely does a bandit announce that a banditee is eligible for a robbery. That puts eligible for expulsion solidly in the sugarcoated aisle of the language-mart.


Some of us are quite content with words such as nethergarments, underoos, and mirdle (a male girdle, for the innocent or female of waistline) to describe the confidence-building clothes we wear under our Batsuited exterior. At times, such vigorous language has been replaced with hilarious language, for which I am thankful. In the same spirit as the commoner unmentionables, inexpressibles was an eighteenth and nineteenth century word for breeches or trousers, and it is crying out for a twenty-first century reinvention in the underwear aisle. This 1875 quote from the Oxford English Dictionary is a beaut: "The episcopal inexpressibles...for obvious reasons will be unsuited to lay legs." Bonus: Now that I can plausibly think of my lower appendages as lay legs, they already feel more gazelle-like and secular.

frozen associate

In his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, Gregg Easterbrook touches on a lot more than football, including environmentalism, Battlestar Galactica, Christmas creep, and NASA funding. Easterbrook also has sharp euphemism-dar; he recently pointed out frozen associate, which does not describing a hiberating bear, terrifying ice-monster, or popsicled hedgehog. Nope, associate — along the lines of Starbucks' preposterous partner — is a transparently silly way of calling a low-level employee by a high-level name in hopes of achieving a fresher scent for all. Frozen associate is a variation for workers who probably prefer to not be known as dairy monkeys.

This delicious euphemism almost makes me want to leave words behind and pursue a career in the lactose business — or maybe the adjacent potato chip aisle — just so I could say things like, "Please excuse my frozen associate" and "Have you met my frozen associate?"

But I mean no harm to the real frozen associates of the world; I hope you all remain ineligible for the life celebration home.

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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:

Wednesday November 5th 2008, 8:27 AM
Comment by: Karli A.
I have a darling niece named Euphemia, although everyone calls her Mia. She was named after a Spanish friend of her mother. I have tried to understand the literal meaning of her name. After reading about Frozen Associates, I have decided that a literal meaning doesn't apply to my niece's name.

I found this article very amusing. I hope to have opportunities soon to point out gazelles in the garden.
Wednesday November 5th 2008, 1:39 PM
Comment by: Magda Pecsenye
You just used the phrase "gazelle-like and secular" and then followed it up with a reference to Gregg Easterbrook. Heh.
Wednesday November 5th 2008, 2:36 PM
Comment by: Mark P. (Chicago, IL)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Thanks for the nice comments... I don't think I enjoy anything as much as writing these pieces.

Magda: I probably spend more time reading Easterbrook's football column than I do watching football, which is a bit weird. He's a terrific sportswriter. I also love Bill Simmons.

Karli: As long as the gazelles aren't in my garden, I hope you find them everywhere.
Wednesday November 5th 2008, 2:39 PM
Comment by: Kenneth K. (Glen Covde, NY)
Euphimisms are like verbal rose-colored glasses and have the same effect; they distort reality.
Wednesday November 5th 2008, 3:42 PM
Comment by: Magda Pecsenye
Mark, I really only watch college football, but find Easterbrook hilarious. I should check out Bill Simmons.

And I'm glad I lobbied Ben to turn your first column into a series. Your pieces always make me laugh.
Wednesday November 5th 2008, 6:37 PM
Comment by: Mark P. (Chicago, IL)Visual Thesaurus Contributor

Simmons is one of my favorite writers... Whatever he is to sportswriting, I would love to be that for language when I grow up.

Thanks for your efforts on behalf of the column... You can't imagine how much I appreciate it!

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We welcome euphemism expert Mark Peters as our newest contributor.
Mark's first batch of under-the-radar euphemisms.