Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Naturally Inspired, Independent, Gifted Gobbledygook

Ever thought of sending your kids to a private school? It can certainly be tempting. I don't even have kids, and I like the idea of sending them somewhere.

An article on a new Florida school includes a word choice that is, as the kids say, a bit sus:

[Center for Creative Education director of schools Kevin] Kovacs said he and his team heard stories about kids who were attending the center's summer program who had suffered from hastily developed emergency distance learning and wanted to reverse that trend. So, they spent fall semester of 2020 making plans and getting approvals to open a private school, though Kovacs prefers the term "independent" to avoid sending a message of exclusivity.

The wording here is as revealing as a t-shirt in a sudden rainstorm. This Kovacs character wants to "avoid sending a message of exclusivity" — not avoid the reality of exclusivity. That's the euphemism game in a nutshell, as I learned through constant consumption of George Carlin bits during the paleolithic era of my youth.

Rebranders and other carnies could take a lesson here. Embarrassed of living in a gated community? Call it an independent community. Shy about your members-only club and armed compound? You'll sure send a different message by bragging about your independent club and independent compound.

I wish I could declare independence from the English language sometimes, but I fear I don't know enough Klingon to survive out there, thataway. So English it is: here's a few of the latest fiddle-faddle and twiddle-twaddle that may send you higgledy-piggledy.

auto spa
Some of my earliest memories involve going to the car wash with my parents. I feared a sudsy monster was eating the car, but in a cool way, like getting to meet and survive Cthulhu. Flash forward to 2021. Rather than rebrand the car wash as a Lovecraftian experience for the whole family, a recent article proposes the term auto spa. Now I'm not really a "car guy," but I guess I can get behind the idea of an auto spa. I have one friend in particular whose car is a mess of biblical proportions, requiring a mental and physical hazmat suit to enter. That car could definitely use a Brazilian.

gifted pleasures
Do you have any guilty pleasures? I have plenty, due to being into silly stuff like comic books and action figures (an all-timer euphemism for dolls). Plus, since I was raised Catholic, all my pleasures are guilty. But an article on Livestrong could change my tune to something less self-damning.

[Psychotherapist Victoria] Harris prefers the term "gifted" pleasures. "Changing the label from 'guilty' to 'gifted' can de-stigmatize using the experience of pleasure as a comfort," she says. It also implies the idea that you're worthy of giving yourself a gift and receiving it.

I may not be worthy of lifting the hammer of Thor, but I and other sentient beings understand that guilty pleasures are not actual, literal signs of guilt that could be exposed by a special crimes unit on a CSI show. But calling them gifted pleasures is a bazillion times more weird and conspicuous. Charitably, it sounds like my pleasures should be enrolled in an accelerated math class. Otherwise, it sounds like a term used by the kind of person who, in clinical terms, is ";a bit much."

A Slate article on the eviction crisis contained this notable nugget of nonsense: "The Democratic establishment — which prefers the term 'mainstream Democratic Party.'" Oh, do they now? Makes sense. The establishment of any political party is known for a bunch of things, few of them good. The establishment pushes the most boring candidates, squashes anyone actually interesting or progressive, maintains the status quo with the ferocity of Seinfeld's Library Cop, and — most of all — protects its own hold on power (insert evil laugh here). So the switcheroo to mainstream shuffles off the trappings of power by shifting the focus. This term says, hey, it's not that these powerful, untouchable folks are an entrenched, immovable establishment — it's that everyone else in the party is a bunch of weirdos. The establishment is mainstream, like the Super Bowl, and the fringes are like a sport on ESPN 47 involving how many pool balls you can fit in your mouth.

Finally, how many of your ingredients are naturally inspired?

While living my best life and taking in some high-quality televised entertainment, I recently absorbed a few words from a commercial, words that made my head spin like Walt Disney's frozen head in a blizzard. Some product I can't recall — perhaps yogurt, granola, or paint thinner — boasted of naturally inspired ingredients.

As Sophocles said, "Huh?!?";

Naturally…inspired? Like, nature is the muse for this stuff? How does that work? Is the parent company Thoreau Inc.?

When I meditate upon the notion of natural inspiration, all my lobes can locate is a plastic apple or banana or grape, so perhaps these ingredients comprise the special sauce that makes plastic fruit, which are the source of so much sitcom wackiness, including buffoonish bites by Larry David and Charlize Theron.

But I find it's best to leave such foolishness to the fictional folks in the boob tube. In real life, no one wants to ingest naturally inspired ingredients or talk to a neighbor.

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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.