Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

I Love the Smell of Taco Meat Filling in the Morning

What is it about the three-word phrase that lends itself so well to euphemisms?

From enhanced interrogation techniques to life problem issues, the three-word form is a red flag for a five-star euphemism. One that made headlines in January — marking our first candidate for Euphemism of the Year 2011 — was taco meat filling, a disturbing term/substance that Taco Bell confessed is the secret ingredient in their tacos and other "beef" products.

But that's not the three-headed monster causing discomfort in my soul and midsection. Nope, I'm reaching for the exorcism tongs and Pepto-Bismol over customer pain points.

I'm not sure where I first spotted this term, but it is a doozy. Here's one business type using the expression: "I am often asked where to begin the service innovation process. One place to start is the well-understood customer pain points in your industry, the cracks in the sidewalk that everyone's walking around, resigned to their existence and convinced that they're not fixable."

This term causes so many owies. It sets off the "three words = three miles deep of BS" rule. It takes a simple concept like "problems" and buries it under a mound of horsepucky. Despicably, it makes a business-caused snafu sound like an internal problem of the customer. Last month, I stayed in a nameless — cough*Hyatt*cough — hotel, and my hot water was lukewarm to cold three days in a row. Was that a customer pain point? Or just an incompetent hotel that is first on my list when I acquire nukes? Watch your answer, because I asked Santa for a lot of nukes.

Zeus willing, I hope to spare VT customers any pain points for the duration of this rare rebranding round-up. However, if you experience dizziness, cramps, hallucinations, or athlete's foot, consult a croaker (Bonus euphemism: that's a doctor).


Speaking of noble professions, here's one that's not. There are many not-so-truthful terms in the killing game, but one got a new lease on life in The Mechanic. This recent remake featured, as its website describes, "...a 'mechanic' — an elite assassin with a strict code and unique talent for cleanly eliminating targets." The term seems to have been coined in the original film, which came out in 1972 and starred Charles Bronson. It popped up again from time to time, as the OED collects uses in 1973 ("There's somebody looking for me. A mechanic name of Nick Lye. That's what the Syndicate calls an executioner") and 1986 ('Three hit men — icemen, mechanics, what the hell the present slang calls them"). Tangent alert: Wouldn't it have been fun if Puddy — the mechanic Elaine dated on Seinfeld — lived up to both meanings of the term? His victims would cower, asking "Are you here to kill me?" Puddy, a world champion squinter, would narrow his eyes and answer, vacantly as ever, "That's right."

going out for ice cream

Breaking up is hard to do, which is why I only sever romantic ties via text message or carrier pigeon. I am a coward. Other souls, though braver, may still require a euphemism to cushion the relationship-ending blow. One is "going out for ice cream," which Mary Lane explains, "...started because we knew more than a couple of people who had, at one time in their life, been broken up with over  the frozen treat.  Why ice cream? I always thought that would be an awful way to be broken up with. As if it wasn't enough to get dumped, the jerk had to go and ruin ice cream for you, too! Some nerve." A woman I dated once had a similar phrase. She had been dumped a few times at a restaurant called Francesca's, so we joked that when one of us pulled the cord, the dumpee would be taken to Francesca's. Unfortunately, I think she dumped me at a 7-11. Hmph.

achieve one's fiber goals

The other morning, as I reached for a box of cereal, I wasn't thinking anything loftier than, "Ugh. Ook. Me hungry." So imagine my surprise as I glanced at the back of my frosted cereal to read these uplifting words: "Fiber One cereals help you to achieve your fiber goals by bringing unique flavors and fiber together for a delicious, satisfying taste experience." Achieve my fiber goals? Good galloping G. Gordon Liddy! I've tried to avoid having fiber goals, given how spectacularly my professional, financial, spiritual, existential, and romantic goals have sailed down the toilet. Speaking of the porcelain god, I assume that's the destination so scantily alluded to here. Nice doubletalk, Fiber One, but I'll always prefer taking the Browns to the Super Bowl. Let's face it, Cleveland needs all the help it can get.

Anyhoo, achievements and goals are nice, but let's talk about problems and solutions.

We all have problems. Tight budgets, failing health, ungrateful children, incontinent pets, falling boulders, and Vatican assassin warlocks can be pesky, especially this time of year.

Still, it could be worse: you could be a fella with a hankering to wear a speedo.

If you have that problem, you're alive at the right time. Instead of strolling into the speedo store seeking what some call a budgie smuggler or banana hammock, you can now request a pool solution. VT contributor Nancy Friedman alerted her Twitter followers to this batty euphemism, reasonably announcing: "When I get an email headlined 'Pool Solutions for Him,' I expect chemicals, not Speedos."  

Indeed. If an ultra-revealing, Borat-esque, gods-offending nethergarment is the solution, I'll stick with the problem. However, if I see you wearing one of these solutions, well... Be careful.

I know a good mechanic.

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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 March 2nd 2011, 4:26 AM
Comment by: Kevin P. (Mobile, AL)
Thank you Peter, as I lay awake at two AM with the worries of the world on my mind. I found myself laughing out loud. I guess I found your article to be a wonderful sleep deprivation distraction.

As one who consistently comes up with business ideas that are beyond my execution talents, wouldn't an app that goes beyond auto complete for mobile devices, one that gives us witty speech alternatives, be a sweet addition to any app drawer? So instead of just looking up spelling correction and completions it also checked the VT engine? I know I could of used it several times just tapping out this comment.

I know you were looking to get on the app bandwagon, my gift to you for the SDD.
Wednesday March 2nd 2011, 11:28 AM
Comment by: Mark P. (Chicago, IL)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Thanks, Kevin! I appreciate it...
Wednesday March 2nd 2011, 12:25 PM
Comment by: Rain
Still chuckling over "budgie smuggler."

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