Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Multi-Purpose Malarkey That Facilitates Fiddle-Faddle

They say the eyes are glass facades that facilitate visual exchange to the soul.

Wait, that doesn't sound right. Let me consult this tweet by @PippyChandler:

I was once editing a document in which an academic referred to a building having "glass facades that facilitate visual exchange". When I suggested they simply write "windows" they got huffy and tried to suggest I just didn't understand architecture.

I guess I don't understand architecture either, unless we're talking the architecture of horsepucky.

But let's not gloss over the glory of a six-word euphemism. Holy hockey pads. This is like finding a five-leaf clover or two-headed unicorn.

Non-shockingly, "glass facades that facilitate visual exchange" originated in a land from which I once fled, with no shoes or mental health — academia. Lord knows I love learning, but there's something about the halls of academia that make folks embrace a level of hooey undreamt of by the Hooey Gods.

Speaking of hooey, here's a bushel — or whatever container holds hooey, maybe a drivel diaper.

I hate racing sports. I'll never understand the appeal of NASCAR. Seems to me you could settle the issue in about 5 laps and save everyone a lot of time. But I have no great moral objection to car races, unlike races involving animals, which are cruel to critters at best. As a tweet from The New York Times Opinion account put it:

Attendance at horse races has been in decline for years, and the heavy toll of "breakdowns" among horses — the euphemism for catastrophic injuries, often requiring that the horse be put down — is one reason.

Leave it to humans to treat beautiful animals like beat-up jalopies. I have a feeling horse-racing is going to be one of those things that makes aliens shake their heads in disgust when they examine the remaining fossils of our species in about 30 years. Ugh.

visual historian
To paraphrase George Carlin, a visual historian sounds like something you'd see during an acid trip. But the truth is far more mundane, legal, and healthy. An article in Fortune decodes this term: "Jordan Lloyd, a colorizer who prefers the term 'visual historian,' likens the process of colorizing a photo to 'assembling a jigsaw puzzle.'" So anyone adding color to a movie, photo, or what have you could be considered a visual historian, but not by me. I prefer the less pretentious term artisan who facilitates the color experience.

military information support operations
A four-word euphemism, hoo boy. I'm a little late to the game with this one, which popped up in a recent Politico article but is over a decade old:

In 2010, according to The Atlantic, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates decided to drop the term psyops due to its negative connotations. The U.S. government now prefers the term "military information support operations."

Merriam-Webster defines psyops as "military operations usually aimed at influencing the enemy's state of mind through noncombative means (such as distribution of leaflets)." Hey, what could be less threatening than a leaflet? But, in fact, psyops involves winning/bamboozling the hearts and minds of the enemy, and that often involves propaganda — perhaps even a fib or two. So when the whole world knows what psyops means, you gotta rebrand. I've been trying psyops on my dog to no avail, but maybe military information support operations will convince him to stop peeing on my Captain America rug.

multi-purpose vehicle
Can we talk cars? Probably not, because I'm not fluent in automobile. But I can detect plenty of gas leaking from this description:

A spacious new minivan (although Kia prefers the term MPV for multi-purpose vehicle) with seating for either seven or eight passengers, the 2022 Kia Carnival is brand new in the company's lineup. It replaces the 2021 Sedona.

I suppose multi-purpose vehicle makes sense, but it's vague as heck. I wouldn't use the term multi-purpose unless this vehicle can stand on its hind wheels, fly to the moon, and transform into Optimus Prime.

Speaking of things that go vroom, do you dream of the day when you have a jetpack, a robot butler, and an electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicle?

That's the term I spied in a New York Times article by Craig S. Smith, and what a term it is. If you count the hyphenated words, it's another six-word whopper and a term challenging term to grok. But never fear. It's just a flying car, no biggie.

Man, I already thought the future was disappointing. We're 20 years past 2001, and a shiny alien monolith has been harder to find than my will to live. Now we may finally get a flying car, and I have to call it an electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicle?

No thank you, euphemism-mongers. If flying cars are good enough for George Jetson, it's good enough for me.

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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.