Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Heavy Episodic Malarkey and Other Formulated Fluff

Our ideas about ourselves and our actual selves are often in conflict. Take me. I like to think of myself as Captain America, but no one recognizes this title, no matter how convincing my underoos.

While you could say my status as the Chris Evans' most famous character is unofficial or nuts, I've found a more positive spin in an Insider article. As Talia Lakritz describes, "Tony Appleton, who has announced the births of Prince George and Princess Charlotte, is known as the 'unofficial' town crier (though he prefers the term 'independent') because he has no official connection to the royal family."

What a perfect euphemism, combining optimism and nonsense in a sandwich of slop. But sometimes slop gets you through the day, so save me a puddle.

Speaking of slop, my euphemism mop wiped up the following terms from the drippy drivel of 2018. Enjoy and employ these terms, but keep a twaddle towel handy.

heavy episodic drinking
A recent Gizmodo article mentioned University of Buffalo researcher Brian Quigley's objection to the term binge drinking, which had been used in a study that indicated AA should probably stand for All Americans, given the scary prevalence of binge drinking. But Quigley quibbled, "I actually prefer the term 'heavy episodic drinking.' When the public hears the term binge drinking they think of something else, more akin to a 'lost weekend' involving a person drinking for days and having blackouts. That is, of course, an extreme example of a heavy drinking episode." Quigley has a point, but so does George Carlin, who warned that three-word triads of tommyrot are hard to swallow and harder to digest. When possible, avoid heavy episodic bloviating.

historical
A High Plains Public Radio piece by Angie Haflich puts a positive spin on crumbling architecture. Haflich says, "We live, as many High Plains listeners know, in a very old rambling house.  Living in a structure that some might call decrepit, though I much prefer the term, 'historical,' does have drawbacks.  In addition to the astronomical heating bills, the six toilets to clean, and the ever-present sifting of dust from the 1930's that shakes out of the lathe and plaster when the wind blows in Kansas (and the wind always blows in Kansas), we sometimes have to contend with mice." I can relate. I live in a building with an elevator so old and dangerous the Joker has probably used it to try to kill Batman. The landlord describes it as vintage. I describe it as, "Please, Thor, don't let me die in this elevator, pretty please. I won't take your hammer's name in vain again."  

evolution
Often, evolution is euphemized by the science-adverse crowd who begrudgingly employ clunky mouthfuls such as biological changes over time. But once in a while, the e-word itself can be a restaurant-quality euphemism. As Jon Harris puts it for The Morning Call in an article about the annihilation of retail: "Some have described it as an apocalypse. Others prefer the term disruption. The more optimistic among us call it an evolution." I suppose that's an accurate term if you're thinking of the evolution of the dinosaurs. 

formulated food
No, that's not a weird synonym for baby formula. As discussed in The Irish Times, Professor Alan Kelly is credited with a soothing alliterative term: "The scientist is not fond of the term 'ultra-processed foods', with all its connotations of cheap crap. He prefers the term 'formulated foods'." This euphemism opens new ground for branding mavens hired to sell the unholy atrocities of the world. A Frankenstein monster could be a formulated monster. A deathtrap could be a formulated trap. And genetically modified harbingers of doom could be formulated harbingers of doom. You're welcome, doommongers.

ambassador
Here's a euphemism so insidious I didn't realize it was a euphemism. An article for Oregon Business brought me to my senses: "As brands grasped the power of social, [Andy] Best landed a contract for a Toyota commercial that explicitly labeled him an influencer. (Some brands prefer the term 'ambassador' over influencer. Whatever you call them, these freelancers leverage large social followings to sell an outdoor product, usually by integrating it into their lifestyle.)" Influencer is a surprisingly old word, going back to the 1600s in non-commercial senses, while ambassador has had a metaphorical sense as a messenger of some sort since the 1400s. Some baloney runs deep.

Finally, are you a saver?

No, not a savior, get a grip.

An article on Mike Zahs, a retired history teacher, from Omaha.com, describes Zahs' respectable hobby and laughable euphemism: "Parts of old buildings. The steeple of a demolished church. An ancient grain wagon. Any and all artifacts tied to the history of the home he knows and loves. He said he's not focused enough in his acquisitions to be called a collector. He prefers the term 'saver.'"

Zahs elaborated, with a hint of humblebragging, 'If it looks like it's on its last chance to being saved, somebody will call me and say, 'You should do something about this.'"

This is a euphemism I can behind. Thanks to this term, I'm no longer an immature comic book dweeb or obsessive word-collector. Now I'm a noble double-saver in addition to my capacity as an independent Captain America.

Now leave me alone, I need to update my LinkedIn.


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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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