Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Industrial Athletes Championing Adjusted Ackamarackus

I've taught a thing or two in my day — usually writing — on the college level and even down to the grade school level, which was a lot more fun, since young'uns don&'t use the word problematic in every soliloquy. So I'm somewhat familiar with the teaching lexicon of rubrics, assessments, and pedagogy-majigs. But a recent tweet tipped me off to a far weirder term:

Just because you call it a "learning walk" and not an "observation", does not matter if you're busy making judgments using a criteria based tick sheet (that the teacher does or doesn't ever see) of things you're looking for in a lesson. It's still an observation.

Good point. I would also add that taking a class or getting a degree is not a learning journey. I reckon nothing in the multiverse is a learning journey because those words fit together like peanut butter and asbestos. In fact, if I ever acquire the Infinity Gauntlet, journey would be one of the first words I would turn to lexical dust. Unless Steve Perry is involved, I don't want to hear about a journey, thank you very much.

Still, I have to admit that euphemism-collecting is a trip. Here are the latest tchotchkes and gimcracks from Euphville.

adjusted/updated price
I don't want to alarm anyone, but my keen eyes and neato ears have noticed that prices tend to travel in one direction: up. But that kind of frank directional talk is a little too frank for some businesses, as Utpal M. Dholakia discusses in Harvard Business Review:

In emails and letters to customers, well-loved brands such as Netflix, Microsoft, Sling, and YouTube TV have all referred to a price increase as "updating price" or "adjusting price" in the past. This is common practice because managers are naturally reluctant to tell customers they are raising prices.

This is like a doctor telling a dying patient, "Your lifespan has been updated" or "Your health has undergone a radical adjustment experience." Gag me with a spork.

championing
Representation is important if you're an artist or athlete hoping to make the most dough — and perhaps other perks such as daily transfusions of space lizard blood — for your talents. But representation, perhaps due to association with our elected representatives, isn't the cool word anymore, at least for gallery director Ellie Pennick, who doesn't represent artists — she champions them. As the kids say, whatevs. I scoff, but if I were the recipient of such championing, I would probably change my tune faster than an erratic singer. If you can get me that space lizard blood, champion away.

bicycle accident
Early this year, former Dallas Mavericks center Shawn Bradley was clobbered by a car while riding his bike, As Henry Grabar wrote for Slate:

Riding a bike is, famously, a thing you never forget how to do. But every time a bike rider gets killed by a truck, police spin the incident as the result of some kind of bicycle malfunction. The press repeats the assertion, and the myth of the bicycle accident is renewed.

That's a horrendous euphemism that makes me wish lexical items could get hit by trucks. There's no shame in the terms vehicular assault or hit-and-run — unless you're the perp.

unfinished learning
As we all try to shake off the past year and a half of covid horror, folks are starting to estimate how much the pandemic has cost us past the obvious loss of life. An article in education pub The 74 suggests a new wording for part of the toll:

So-called "Covid learning loss" has obsessed educators and researchers for the better part of a year, but [Kristen] Huff said the term doesn't accurately describe what's happening to students. She prefers the term "unfinished learning."

That term paints an optimistic hue, and optimism is an ism I rarely have in good supply. I tend to see the glass as half full of doom and apocalypse. But maybe this term can inspire me to greater hope. Even if someday I die — which the wizard in the subway promised me I wouldn't & mdash; I can just chalk it up to unfinished living.

Finally, are you an industrial athlete?

I hope not, because this euphemism comes from Amazon, the world's leading producer of evil and drivel.

As discussed in The Verge:

Amazon tells its warehouse employees to think of themselves not as overworked cogs in an enormous, soul-crushing machine, but as "industrial athletes," and to prepare their bodies for that experience like someone training for a sporting event, according to a pamphlet obtained by Motherboard. The comparison is a troubling euphemism for a company whose workers have almost double the amount of serious injuries as the rest of the warehousing industry and who reportedly are often unable to take bathroom breaks.

This euphemism breaks the gears of the disgustometer. What a way to pass the moral buck for your heinous employment conditions. The idea that you have to be an industrial athlete—the warehouse equivalent of a LeBron James or Serena Williams — just to survive your job, is diabolical.

If you're going to force employees to train like athletes, pay them like it. I'm sure Jeff Bezos could make every employee a millionaire and still have enough money left to fund his giant Kryptonite robots.


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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:

Saturday July 17th, 1:34 PM
Comment by: Dan F. (Minneapolis, MN)
I'd like to see "challenge" discussed as a euphemism. Maybe you've done this one before.
Why must every problem be a challenge? For instance, if I have hearing loss, it's a problem. It's a problem I can ameliorate. But if someone calls it a "challenge", it suggests that with persistence and work, I can overcome this malady. If I don't, it's my fault. It's victim-blaming. It's putting a positive, cheerful patch on a leaking boat.

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