Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Graphic Third-party Development Needs in a Post-truth World

As everyone knows, Superman can be hurt, and even killed, by Kryptonite. It's his one development need.

Development need? To quote a wise man, "What?!?"

This is my new favorite/least favorite euphemism, and I spied it in some online discussions about writing. One student after another mentioned having "some strengths and development needs." Not strengths and weaknesses, nosireebob: strengths and development needs, by the green thumb of Yoda.

I suspect the use of this term was transmitted via contact with a tutoring agency, though many organizations use the term. This advice for graduate students at the University at Nebraska-Lincoln urges students to "Identify your strengths and development needs." A similar ball of bunkum is development opportunity. Yeesh. That lays the BS on thicker than the cream cheese on a NYC bagel.

Is it just me, or does development whatever sound like a more serious problem than a plain ol' weakness? Development need is a neighbor of developmental, which is a roommate of remedial. How is that easier on the ego than weakness?

Spoiler alert: Every writer has weaknesses. Every person has weaknesses. Even my dog has weaknesses, and he's a good boy. None of us is a perfect, infallible immortal.

Oh well, I'm sure my obsession with this term is just one of my shortcoming deficits, so I'd best move on. Here are some other euphemisms that leapt off the page and buried themselves in the soft bouncy castle of my mind.

inner engineering

This may be more of an example of malarkey than euphemism, so sue me, it's "Inner Engineering." The sign also featured an arrow, which I dared not follow, for fear of what horrors this opaque term might cloak. Was an inner engineer an organ thief? An evil telepath? An interior decorator? I didn't stay to find out, because I need my kidneys, thoughts, and squalor. The truth—assuming my thoughts haven't been rearranged by a madman—appears to be far more mundane. Inner engineering is merely a form of yoga. According to the website of Sadhguru, this stuff is "an opportunity to engineer an inner transformation that deepens your perception, bringing about a dimensional shift in the very way you look at your life, your work, and the world that you inhabit." A dimensional shift? No thanks. My mother taught me to stay away from portals.


I am learning so many things from Bryan Cranston's wonderful memoir A Life in Parts. In addition to being one of the greatest actors ever, Cranston has had one of the most interesting lives ever, and he writes damn well too. Among other treats, I enjoyed a euphemism about a childhood discretion. When the Cranstons went to the grocery school, their mother encouraged them to sample to their hearts' delight, especially in the bulk aisle, where a plethora of food items can be easily stuffed down your piehole. Sampling, of course, is stealing, a meaning Cranston later embraced when he worked security at a grocery store. Thanks to his thievish past, Cranston was a pro at spotting which miscreant in the melon aisle was up to mischief.

graphic literature

I was in New York City recently, conducting important research (going to New York Comic Con) and making smart observations ("I think that's Madison Square Garden," "There's a lot of people here.") After making a pilgrimage to Tom's Restaurant—aka "the Seinfeld diner"—my friends and I checked out a bookstore across the street. Ever vigilant, I looked for the comic books and didn't see any, until my gobsmacked brain saw this label over some multi-colored tomes: "Graphic Literature." Ouch. That makes graphic novel sound non-pretentious. I also reckon calling comics graphic literature makes them sound a little too much like the kind of periodicals that come in a sealed plastic bag.


Though I pride myself as an Earthling, I do find a frequent need to escape from reality. One of my favorite recent escapes was a visit to T-Con, an enormous convention devoted to the Transformers. I barely know Optimus Prime from Amazon Prime, but I learned a lot, mostly through my friend Ben, who alerted me to the fact that purple Transformers are almost always evil. I guess racism is acceptable if you're talking about giant robots. But Ben also mentioned a term that pinged my euph-dar: third-party. Some of the many robot toys were called third-party, which means off-brand, unauthorized, or flat-out illegal. They're no Transformers: more like Transchmorphers.

Finally, are you living in the post-truth world?

This word has been everywhere since Oxford Dictionaries named it Word of the Year. Symptoms of post-truthery include acceptance of fake news, rejection of science, and ingestion of political lies. Now there's an interesting word: lie. Is post-truth just a euphemism for lies? Not necessarily. I think it's actually a euphemism for another word I'll have to euphemize with an abbreviation: BS.

BS—which, ahem, I may have written a book about—is the epitome of post-truth. In On Bull*#@$, Harry G. Frankfurt argued that BS isn't necessary lies, and the BS artist doesn't give a flying horse apple about the truth. The liar at least has to know the truth. The BSer doesn't. Therefore, as Frankfurt puts it, BS is "a greater enemy of the truth than lies." So BS is post-truth, pre-truth, non-truth, and no truth to see here, please move along.

So do we really need the word post-truth? Probably not, but as Aristotle or someone probably pointed out, "There is so much BS in the universe that we need a bazillion words for it."

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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 December 7th 2016, 9:24 PM
Comment by: John E. (Mechanicsburg,, PA)
Development needs, indeed! Mark Thompson is Pesident and Chief Executive Officer of the New York Times Company.
I quote a brief passage from his new book, "Enough Said. What's Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics." This book tells the story and "...forensically examines the public language we've been left with...compressed, immediate, sometimes brilliantly impactful, but robbed of most of its explanatory power." Clearly much our current language usage is designed to mislead or divert meaning, either to shock or confuse, and obfuscate in order to avoid direct confrontation with meaning.
Euphemisms and Cato's 'vera vocabula rerum', we have lost the 'true names of things.'
Tuesday December 13th 2016, 9:14 AM
Comment by: douggood5@gmail.com (Liberty Hill, TX)

Is that the chief executive over at Pez?

ha ha

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