Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Hokum in the Vault of Hope

Beep beep beep. Prepare yourself for what the bard might call "a doozy."

Via the hellsite of Twitter, Evasive Maneuvers semi-confidential informant Edward Banatt tipped me off to a candidate for Euphemism of the Year: freedom seeds. The term is admirably skewered on Wonkette: "NRA Happy So Many Americans Buying 'Freedom Seeds.' Bullets. They Mean Bullets."

Depressingly, this term has been around for at least a few years, and it validates one of my long-standing lexical observations: the word freedom is one of the sneakiest snakes in the dictionary. I'll never forget, though I wish I could, the terms freedom fries and molecules of freedom, which are not a lunch special, since molecules of freedom equal freedom gas, which equals natural gas. Freedom is a bloviator's best friend.

Well, no use delaying this month's roundup of euphemisms — excuse me, freedom words.

action communications
The term action, like freedom, sounds like a million bucks, which makes it susceptible to a billion balderdashes. As for action communications, the offending article that served as a spider-hole for this term is blessedly hidden by a paywall, sparing my learning any more about this twaddle. In a PR Week article, Google provided me this snippet: "[Richard] Edelman says he now prefers the term 'action communications' to marketing communications, in a bid to get corporations to actively change…" Not sure what is changing: you can fill in that blank as you like. Perhaps with the next term.

In the latest Oxford English Dictionary (OED) update, I learned a new word for my nethergarments aka underwear. This term is a good reminder that writing is usually catching up to and trying to capture speech, as gotch, gotchies, gonch, and gonchies have all been used with this meaning, since at least the 1960s, mainly in Canada. I find this example sentence, from a 2012 tweet by @BeeberNPaul, inspiring: 'Something about discovering your gotch are inside out that makes you realize it can only get better from here.'

gourmet quick-mealer
My favorite TV show in the history of ever is The Shield, which I recently rewatched for the eleventy-kabillionth time. Between the Shakespearean tragedy of the main characters and frequent police brutality that feels pulled from 2020 headlines, the show can be heavy. But in later seasons, as the overall story careened toward darkness, they added the character of Steve Billings — a not-so-diligent detective — for some comic relief. Besides being a lazy cop who'd rather eat sushi than crack cases, Billings owns vending machines in the police station, an ethical no-no. But Billings refers to such "sophisticated machinery" as "gourmet quick-mealers." Guess that's better than freedom food.

Another recent addition to the OED was bohunkus, an out-of-fashion term that is a triple threat as a euphemism, or perhaps a dysphemism, the euphemism's blunt bizzaro twin. Since 1941, bohunkus has referred to a butt, as in this 1983 use from The Washington Post: "You can go zipping down the Sun Streaker water slide, a 220-foot nearly straight shot that you take from four stories high, sitting only on your bohunkus." Since at least 1933, the word has referred to "A stupid, obnoxious, or worthless person." Based on early uses, it seems as though a certain humorist spread and perhaps coined the term:

1933   P. G. Wodehouse Mulliner Nights i. 28   You are an overfed old bohunkus.
1959   P. G. Wodehouse Few Quick Ones 59   I wrote him off as a bohunkus.

But I'm giddy as a puppy over the earliest meaning, which is close to my horsefeathers-stuffed heart as the author of Bullshit: A Lexicon. Bohunkus was a form of malarkey in this 1918 Saturday Evening Post example: "Any more shilly-shallying and bohunkus and I fire the both of you."

Speaking of bohunkus, do you have a vault of hope?

Gaze into this article from The Hustle:

Recently, Github, an open-source coding platform, donated it's entire trove of code to the archive — some 21 terabytes of data posted by millions of users since 2008. Most press accounts have dubbed the Arctic World Archive a "doomsday vault." The archive prefers the term "vault of hope."

Sure, why not. In fact, with the stench of doom covering our country and world on every conceivable front, I think we could all use a break, lexically at least.

Marvel Comics should rebrand Dr. Doom as Dr. Hope. Doomsday should become, officially, Hopeday, and we should squeeze it into the calendar. Prophets of doom should become prophets of hope.

However, on a serious note, harbingers of doom should stay as they are, because my mother told me to never mess with harbingers.

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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.