Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Justice-Involved Bullshine and Other Content Marketing Opportunities

It's almost the end of 2015, and a new frontrunner for Euphemism of the Year has emerged.

In a Department of Justice press release, Attorney General Loretta Lynch wrote, "The Department of Justice is committed to giving justice-involved youth the tools they need to become productive members of society."

As Shakespeare put it, "Wow."

I do see how the term juvenile delinquent might feel a little antiquated and ridiculous, but there's nothing like replacing ridiculous with preposterous squared. A justice-involved youth sounds like a crime-fighting teen, such as Batman's old chum Robin, Captain America's sidekick Bucky, or any member of the Teen Titans. But the term actually means the opposite. Holy newspeak! George Orwell is turning over in his life-celebration receptacle.

Still, maybe this term has potential. After all, the ways we describe older criminals can also be hurtful. Maybe aging scofflaws would have better self-esteem if they were called justice-involved geezers.

I'm sure all justice enthusiasts will enjoy seeing the following real euphemisms, which I have rounded up and thrown into language prison. Wait, not prison. More like a justice resort.

declining track

A recent letter to advice columnist Heather Havrilesky discussed a writing midlife crisis. The advice seeker offered many details, including, "My book sales are beyond flat. One agent called me, charmingly, ‘declining track.'" Oh boy, as a guy who just wrote a book, I already fear the declining track. I just hope I can get on the inclining track first.

session beer

I enjoy session beers. But if you're not already familiar with the term, I doubt you could figure out what the heck I enjoy. According to my hops-activated decoder ring, a session beer is one you can enjoy in high volume in one drinking session due to its true meaning: session beers are low-alcohol. Well, fairly low. They're not as low as near beer, which has almost no alcohol at all. I wonder if any forward-thinking distillers make session grain alcohol.


Because I am a dimwit, I somehow never came across this word while writing a whole book of words for BS. Sigh. Well, better late than never, I suppose. Thanks to linguist Arnold Zwicky, I'm finally aware of this term, and it's a terrific one. Bullshine is as perfect a euphemism as bull sugar, since they share the sh sound with the naughty euphemized four-letter word. Bullshine might even be better, because to shine someone on is to pull the wool over their eyes in some way. Then again, bull sugar is also apt, since too much sweetness is a feature of BS such as flummery.

wellness hiatus

The Flash might be the best superhero TV show ever, with a hero channeling the wholesome charm of Christopher Reeve and scripts that bring comic book absurdity to life, including the telepathic Gorilla Grodd. A recent episode featured a different type of absurdity, as Professor Stein (played by the wonderful Victor Garber) described a health-related absence with a doozy of a euphemism: he claimed to have been on a wellness hiatus, which we should all begin requesting instead of sick days immediately.

data usage

In a Wall Street OTC article by David Warren, I was reminded of a term preferred by money-grubbing phone-service providers. As Warren wrote, "…the company also recommended phone reps to avoid the term of ‘data cap' for the new trial and use instead ‘data usage plan' since the company doesn't really limit usage but it charges extra money when people exceed those 300 GB in the monthly data plan." I reckon data usage does sound less limiting and throttle-y than data cap. Perhaps hospice workers could learn something from this. End of life sounds so final, so maybe the dying would be comforted to know they've simply come to the end of their oxygen usage.

Finally, have you had any content marketing opportunities lately?

I understand if you have to think about it. What in tarnation could that trifecta of twaddle, that mound of malarkey, that buffet of bunkum, actually mean? Turns out it means something really simple and basic and all-too-common in the life of a writer: the chance to write for free.

I spotted this term in an email sent by a company I won't name. The company basically spammed about 200 writers who they had paid for work in the past, asking them to contribute to a new website. It was quite amusing to watch one writer after another object to the attempt at hornswoggling free work. Then the conversation took a more absurd turn, as one writer after another demanded to be removed from the spammy list—all the while spamming the entire list again. This email tragicomedy was the equivalent of a mob of people with torches in one hand and signs in the other that read "Fire bad!"

That day will live in infamy for anyone whose inbox was clogged. But on a positive note, this little brouhaha provided pertinent reminder of timeless truths that were once handed down to me on a mountaintop, by my Uncle Ted, who I guess lives up there or something:

Thou shalt not use three-word euphemisms, for they contain triple the tripe.

Thou shalt avoid the word content, which consistently describes work done for no or little pay.

Thou shalt not spam anybody. Woe betide you if you denounce spam while spamming.

Thou shalt give my nephew Mark lots of writing work so he doesn't have to become a justice-involved content creator.

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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.