Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Less-Transparent, Potentially Recyclable Candidates for the Bin Pod

Are you having a rebuilding year?

That's a common sports term referring to a year in which a down-on-their-luck team gives up on winning right now and tries to plant seeds for the future. So the team might trade someone who's in their prime — and therefore awesome, but has a big contract — for cheaper, younger players who might bloom down the line.

Over time, rebuilding year and rebuild have developed a sense that, "This season will suck," which is accurate. So no wonder some savvy football geniuses, hoping to sell tickets to teams of turds, avoid this failure-riffic term.

New York Rangers President John Davidson prefers build. Some lacrosse programs use reload. High school basketball player Kamille Morton nominates year of growth, which may already be spoken for by the Puberty Department of Euphemisms Inc.

But no matter how you slice the lemon, all of these terms mean, "We're not winning now, but maybe in the distant future, waaaaaaay down the line, Nostradamus willing, we won't suck."

Whether you're building, rebuilding, reloading, unloading, or just slowly turning to dust, euphemisms are a proven distraction from the perils of your own life. So please enjoy these torturous terms and lexical pretzels.

Speaking of sports, when an athlete or team blows an easy opportunity at a high-pressure moment, they choke. But maybe we should say they self-guzzle. This is a synonym for choke or strangle from the late 1800s. The term doesn't seem to have caught on much, but it did appear in Guys & Dolls: "He will be safe from being guzzled by some of Black Mike's or Benny's guys." May we all be similarly safe. Guzzling is hazardous to your health.

bin pod
As described in an article I am almost certain is not satire, a British billionaire has proposed a novel solution for the homeless: just put a couple of trash cans together and enjoy a good night's sleep, Oscar-style. OK, the trash cans are actually plastic, and that's not the only synthetic aspect of this modest proposal: apparently, these garbage containers are called bin pods in British English. Come on, Brits, that's no way to talk about a rubbish receptacle. Bin pod sounds like the place aliens will store my frozen body while waiting for space to open up in their zoo.

Even been to Ballyhack? I hope not, because it's hell — literally. This euphemism for the infernal regions has been around since the mid-1800s. The Oxford English Dictionary's first use is from an 1843 issue of Southern Miscellany: "It was just the easiest thing in the world for him to blow all Sammy Stonestreet's cherished notions to Ballyhack." A 1903 use from an Ohio newspaper shows Ballyhack, which may be related to heck, can substitute for the most metaphorical uses of hell: "Each of the six friends back home wrote to me, giving me ballywhack because the fellow wouldn't take the job they had individually secured for him." Give me Ballyhack or give me death! Actually, please just give me Ballyhack, thank you.

Transparency isn't just for Susan Storm these days, as business and governments strive for transparency — or at least strive to tell you they strive for transparency. An article from Financial Advisor puts a suspicious spin on this see-through topic:

These product structures were initially labeled as "non-transparent" by the media and others, but Precidian calls them "semi-transparent" because it says ActiveShares funds provide the same quarterly portfolio transparency as mutual funds, which aren't called non-transparent. Ben Johnson, Morningstar's director of global exchange-traded fund research, prefers the term "less-transparent" exchange-traded products.

Hey, technically a brick wall is less-transparent than a window, but I would't advertise it that way at my Brick Store. (Note to self: See if Brick Store is good investment).

Finally, do you keep track of potentially recyclable stuff?

This is another example of an adjective taking a nice, normal word and smothering it in euphemistic glop. Take this paragraph from Forbes:

Burbank, a mid-sized American city, receives approximately 150 tons of potentially recyclable materials every day. Hampel prefers the term "potentially recyclable" because up to a quarter of what people put into recycle bins actually ends up in the landfill.

This article contains a far blunter term, trash-scalator, which is "a giant a series of conveyor belts carrying a stream of discarded products past a couple dozen workers who sort through the 15-18 tons of refuse brought to the Burbank facility per hour."

Trash-scalator is a tremendous word, but let's not gloss over the power of potentially. This word can transform almost anything into bullpucky.

Sir, your child isn't under arrest. He's just potentially convicted.

I'm not lazy. I'm just potentially motivated.

My dog isn't off-leash. If you look closely, he's potentially leashed.

My cooking isn't inedible. It's potentially edible.

And while I must admit that I am not, strictly speaking, Captain America, you could admit that I am potentially Captain America — if I ever get ahold of some super-soldier serum.

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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.