Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Malarkey-Inspired Euphemisms

Rebranding — which is a heckuva euphemism itself — has been the root cause of many euphemisms over the years, as fish have become sea kittens and rich jerks have become job creators.

The latest attempt at ridiculous, retch-worthy rebranding is knowledge people: in other words, librarians.

Fortunately, this term was roundly rejected by a British librarians' association. Thank Thor for that. Librarian already has a relatively harmless synonym: information professional. A deeper form of drivel is unnecessary. Besides, knowledge people sound like half-human, half-data monsters from a sci-fi movie not nearly as fun as Sharknado.

Unholy hybrids aside, it's been several months since I did a theme-less euphemism roundup, and it's time I got back to basics. Please enjoy the following euphemisms, which have nothing in common except malarkey (with which they are soaked) and me (who lapped it up).

Diaper Genie

I don't know how I missed this euphemism till now, since it's clearly a contender for Euphemism of the Eon. As I was visiting my friends John and Alison — and their swaddling infant Oskar — I heard Alison mention the Diaper Genie, which is nothing more and nothing less than a bucket for dirty diapers. By this logic, a dumpster is a Garbage Genie, and a toxic waste dump is a Toxic Waste Genie. On behalf of the makers of Diaper Genie, I apologize to the genie community.

gun librarian

In "The Wind Cries Mary" episode of Archer, lead character/James Bond spoof Sterling Archer referred to Rodney, a new character, like so: "He's the new, whatever, gun librarian." That's a puzzling term that could easily be mistaken for part of an NRA school-safety proposal, but as Rodney quickly pointed out, it means something simpler: an armory supervisor. Oddly, gun librarian is not an entirely new or fanciful term, as seen in this bizarre bit of library news. Let's hope the next season of Archer doesn't see this character referred to as a gun knowledge person.

Southern gentleman's engineering

While perusing the Dictionary of American Regional English, I spied a term as dry as an Arizona tumbleweed rolling over a martini. This euph, which is probably not as beloved in the South as sweet tea, means "A process resulting in something that is poorly made or repaired." Now that I think about it, almost every human endeavor ever attempted, from governments to improv classes, is the result of Southern gentleman's engineering. No offense intended, y'all.

or better

In my bank, I recently noticed a poster advertising some retirement doodad or thingy. The poster included these words: "For clients 55 years of age or better." Or better? Is this blatant fogey-flattering actually effective? I think the words the poster-maker meant to use were or deader.

fur angel

I love my dog. In fact, I probably love my dog more than even Louis CK or Batman, both of whom I love lots. Still, if you ever catch me describing my pet as a fur angel, you have permission to take me to the vet and put me to sleep. I'm sure the people who use this nauseating euphemism for a pet mean well, but come on. Please. As George Costanza would say, "We're living in a society!" Furparent and furkid were bad enough, but fur angel is stuffed with enough saccharine and Splenda to give the whole world cancer. Fun fact: When you call your pet a fur angel, a real angel gets dissolved in a barrel.

improperly dependent

This euph is left over from last month's look at Rawson's Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Doubletalk. In that impressive tome, which I'll be citing forever, I found a term that's sadly relevant to my other job: writing teacher. Over the years, I've had oodles, or at least hundreds, of students turn in work that was improperly dependent — in other words, plagiarized.


While watching an old episode of Reno 911 — an underrated show — I heard Clemmie, the most blonde and buxom of the deputies, use an interesting term. When the deputies were debating which of them should speak to the press, vain Clemmie said, "I'm the most presentational." I reckon that's a semi-nice way of saying, "I'm the most attractive person here, which isn't a huge accomplishment, since the rest of you have faces like the back of a bus."

wood-inspired flooring

The meaning of this term — sometimes found in ads for apartments, condos, and houses — is as unknowable as the riddle of the sphinx. You could waterboard me AND force me to look at Instagrams of your lunch, and I wouldn't be able to tell you a single ingredient of wood-inspired flooring. All I could tell you is what it doesn't contain: wood-inspired flooring is 100% wood-free.

Wood-inspired! What a word. I wonder if this term could start a trend.

Honesty-challenged politicians could make fact-inspired statements. Fast-food restaurants could serve vitamin-inspired dishes. Sleazy businesses could offer health-inspired benefits. Perhaps the nosy NSA could offer privacy-inspired surveillance.

I just hope my editors don't start paying me money-inspired wages. That could force me to return to my old job, which might be my true vocation: selling reality-inspired bridges.

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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 August 7th 2013, 2:20 AM
Comment by: Judy L. (Bellevue, WA)
Would you accept from a student the sentence beginning "While watching. . .Reno 911. . . Clemmie used an interesting term."? Who was watching Reno 911?? Certainly it was you, not Clemmie, as this structure indicates.

[The dangling participle dangles no more! —Ed.]
Wednesday August 7th 2013, 5:11 AM
Comment by: E H. (Bristol United Kingdom)
Somewhere in the ether there's a 'euphemism imp', busy slipping 'language improvements' into our writing.
Wednesday August 7th 2013, 8:57 AM
Comment by: Orin Hargraves (CO)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
At my university the new term for 'cataloguer' is 'metadata librarian'. Excellent job title upgrade, I ween.
Wednesday August 7th 2013, 9:22 AM
Comment by: Roberta M. (Redmond, WA)
How can one possibly euphemize (?) librarian? There is no holier occupation! Librarians saved my life.
Wednesday August 7th 2013, 11:08 AM
Comment by: Peter C. (Santa Barbara, CA)
Isn't poor Clemmie more guilty of malapropism than euphemism? She likely meant to say "presentable" (which itself might be rebranded as displaying "beauty-inspired looks").
Wednesday August 7th 2013, 11:46 AM
Comment by: Alison T. (Charlotte, NC)
I assume you mean that your friend used the term "Diaper Genie" to indicate a run-of-the-mill bucket with a lid that contains dirty nappies. Diaper Genie is a brand, and it refers to the mechanism that rolls the use diapers up in a long tube of plastic as you throw them away, thus (supposedly) locking up odor and also creating the most horrible sausage of all time. On second thought, all sausage is pretty horrible. Anyway, if Alison actually used a Diaper Genie, then it wouldn't be a euphemism and frankly, if she didn't, I think that changes its status to that of a new coinage in which the brand name represents doing the thing, like Xerox.
Wednesday August 7th 2013, 4:00 PM
Comment by: joan G.
Food packaging is a never ending source of malarkey. Cheese Food is a favorite, as there is no cheese in the product and the ingredients that are formed into a cheese-like shape are not real food.
Thursday August 8th 2013, 2:15 AM
Comment by: Joann Z. (Rockford, IL)
Political euphemisms are the best.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Evacuation is not an evacuation, it is an ordered departure. I would have thought ordered departure is what happens at [Reagan] National Airport every couple of hours when a plane takes off on time. A coup in Egypt isn't a coup, it’s a change of government. The war in Afghanistan isn’t really a war, it’s an overseas contingency operation. What happened in Benghazi was not really a terror attack, it was a spontaneous riot. As the Secretary of State at the time said, 'what difference does it make?'

This is the first administration in history ever to launch a lexicological war on the enemy.
Thursday August 8th 2013, 9:28 AM
Comment by: Chandru S. (Chaska, MN)
being in the 'or better' category myself, i always thought 'improperly dependent' means a parasite!
Thursday August 8th 2013, 11:25 AM
Comment by: Nancy FriedmanVisual Thesaurus Contributor
In fashion copy, "couture-inspired" translates to "a knockoff you may actually be able to afford."
Thursday August 8th 2013, 12:10 PM
Comment by: Judy L. (Bellevue, WA)
@ Ed. On behalf of the few of us in the world who still notice (and endlessly wring our hands over)such things, thanks for the fix, which now correctly identifies the subject of the sentence.
Thursday August 8th 2013, 3:10 PM
Comment by: Talia G. (Los Angeles, CA)
Disagree with a number of your points but, oh, so enjoyed your article!
Thursday August 8th 2013, 4:52 PM
Comment by: Judith J.
Very funny. Thanks, we needed this. Almost-TGIF.
Thursday August 8th 2013, 10:13 PM
Comment by: Mike P. (Seattle, WA)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
>Southern gentleman's engineering

I hope that you're familiar with the many roundups of particularly noteworthy examples. Here's one such collection:

Saturday August 10th 2013, 8:17 PM
Comment by: Susan C.
Always enjoy your articles, Mark.

Here's one I've been meaning to send you and when I saw it again yesterday I made a mental note:

fractionally deeded ownership

While it can related to other kinds of assets like planes, for real estate, this is a new spin on timeshares also called "Private Residence Clubs*." (The main difference is that you buy a share of deeded property, not just the right to use it but you still share your time there.)

There seems to be a rule of thumb for such euphemisms that you have to string three words together that then have to be looked up to understand the true meaning of them.

*not to be confused with a "Destination Club"
Tuesday August 13th 2013, 3:45 PM
Comment by: Craig J.
I believe "job creator" is not so much a euphemism as a description; poor people don't do much hiring, rich people do. Rich jerks, like poor jerks, are just a sub-set of a larger class. Full disclosure: I am not a rich people (within the context of American society), just a student of economics who reads business news for entertainment, and idly dreams of being rich.

Thanks to Susan C. (comment immediately above)for the term "fractionally deeded ownership". I am enmeshed in negotiations to pay a time share company for the privilege of giving back my 87 year old father's Broward county timeshare. He can't just walk away because he has a deed on a week a year of usufruct for a suite in a decaying condo. No control over the property, nothing a surveyor could post on a map, but no way to just abandon this body of death. If anything ever screamed out for a euphemism to hide its true nature, this is it. "Fractional ownership" is a lot like "publically owned"; if you want find out just how much ownership right you have in "public property", try to exercise your rights independently of the governmental authority in charge.

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