Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Now-Ists, Creators, and Other Lexical Emergencies

Are you familiar with the Supreme Court’s shadow docket? Of all the dockets in the world, it is the most dimly lit — and therefore scares the bejesus out of me.

But I feel much better after reading an article in the American Bar Association’s journal:

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. used a law school speech Thursday to defend the U.S. Supreme Court’s "shadow docket" of emergency orders and summary decisions.

In a livestreamed speech at the University of Notre Dame’s law school, Alito addressed criticisms and took issue with the shadow docket term. He prefers the term “emergency docket.”

Whew! That sounds much better. Anything could happen in the shadows, but who ever suffered from an emergency?

In fact, this term is a lexical lantern, leading to many potential rebrandings.

Shadowy figures, portending menace, could inspire whews instead of eeks as emergency figures.

1930’s pulp adventurer The Shadow could remerge as The Emergency.

And the groundhog can forget about seeing their shadow and focus on seeing emergencies, which are much easier to find these days.

The following dribbles of dreck and pibble (new word, please use) tried to stay in the shadows, but I was wearing my Emergency Euphemism Excavation Hat, which is a true lighter in the AC/DC concert of language.

I don’t own much, other than too many comic books and the Ark of the Covenant, which I frequently consider shoving my head and other parts into. Some of my fellow Earthlings own larger items, including land, but not all want to own the term owner, as seen in an article in a UK magazine:

As we talk in his hunting lodge, he seems every inch the laird of the manor. But Lister doesn’t view himself as the ‘owner’ of the land; he prefers the term 'custodian', with the responsibility that entails.

I applaud the connotations of custodian, which suggests both care and caretaking, but owners who deny their ownership are high on my list of horse cookies. Be advised, people of moolah: You can be a good owner without being a lame word coiner.

secrecy jurisdiction
Sometimes I invert the purpose of this column and discuss a dysphemism — the euphemism’s ultra-frank sibling, like calling a cigarette a coffin nail. Recently, some legal beagles dysphemically redubbed the term tax haven, which is about half honest—the other half omits the part about being a grimy greedhead who doesn’t want to pay their fair share to society, which I’m told we are living in (Costanza 1991). Anyhoo, I noticed an alternative term in Business Recorder:

They offer not only low or zero taxes, but also provide facilities for people or entities to get around the rules, laws and regulations of other jurisdictions, using secrecy as their prime tool. Therefore, Tax Justice Network (TJN) prefers the term "secrecy jurisdiction" instead of the more popular "tax haven".

Secrecy jurisdiction is not exactly clear as glass, but it is as sinister as a snake monster, so that puts it closer to the dysphemic side of things. I reckon nothing good goes on in a security jurisdiction, so it’s a fitting term for tax-dodgers and other financial slackers and revenue-hogging reprobates.

While perusing an article on Inc. for some reason, a passage activated my brain’s gag reflex:

"Nobody wants more data--they want the actual insights that are useable," says Kraft, who prefers the term now-ist to futurist. "How do we make actionable information that translates to the point of care or the bedside?"

Data and insight aside, since when is futurist a dirty word? Futurist, a word that’s been around since at least the mid-1800s, perfectly names someone who spends a lot of time pondering and prognosticating the times to come, however few or numerous those times might be. Now-ist sounds like something a marketer came up with after suffering head trauma. Later for that.

Not to get too personal, but are you a creator?

That’s a rather broad word, which can apply to anyone from artists to parents to deities. Until recently, it was a pretty solid word, unsullied by malarkey. But I see tons of writers referring to themselves as content creators — gag me with an invoice — and then there’s an Adage article that proclaims: “How ‘Influencers’ Became ‘Creators’ and What It Means for Brands” and “The term ‘influencer’ no longer applies to many of today’s social media stars.”

Influencer and creator — by my reckoning, which Mother always said was infallible — are two of the most overused, uninspired, rage-inducing words of the current geological area. But at least I could grok influencer. As the Oxford English Dictionary does not put it, an influencer is some annoying person, probably young, who got popular on social media and as a result will let the cash register ka-ching for any damn product at all.

Creator is such a vague, calorie-free word that it’s barely there at all, like the ghost of horse manure. If you can’t come up with a more specific word for yourself than creator, you must be creating diddly-nada-squat.

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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.