Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Ongoing Medieval Information Weapons

There's something a tad off-putting about the word warlord—such as, oh, everything about the term. No wonder one miffed warlord is launching a rebrand, as discussed in The Atlantic by Matt Peterson, whose name I like for some reason:

The war in Afghanistan is the clearest example of foreign policy without sufficient diplomacy. In the initial invasion, the U.S. chose to rely on local partners—many of them warlords—to carry out the bulk of the fighting. One was Abdul Rashid Dostum, the current vice president of Afghanistan, who admitted to Farrow that his forces were responsible for massacring prisoners in the aftermath of the U.S. intervention. Dostum committed war crimes even as his military contribution was invaluable to achieving U.S. objectives the early phase of the war. But nearly two decades later, Dostum is still sowing chaos—he has even hinted he might turn his militia fighters against his own government. (He now prefers the term "peacelord," he told [Ronan] Farrow.)

Such a blatant down-is-up euphemism is pure Orwellianism. Poor George Orwell. How can he rest in peace when he has so many reasons to spin in his grave fast enough to reverse the space-time continuum?

Ah, well, speaking of hooey and hokum, here's my monthly roundup of euphs I found underneath the most common element on the periodic table: horsepucky.

prisoners with jobs
One of my favorite movies is Thor: Ragnarok, which blends superheroes, Norse mythology, and Jack Kirby-inspired mayhem into a comedic wonder with plenty of psychological resonance. In Ragnarok, the Grandmaster (played drolly by Jeff Goldblum) is a blue-skinned tyrant who melts people on a whim and hosts the Contest of Champions, in which people are forced to fight each other for the amusement of their host and the bloodthirsty spectators of Sakaar. However, as the Grandmaster tells his henchperson Topaz, he doesn't care for the s-word—slave. He prefers to think of his slaves as prisoners with jobs. It's a goofy moment in a goofy movie, but soothing your conscience via vile verbiage is far from science fiction.

information
In an article from the Philly Voice about the Philadelphia Phillies, manager Gabe Kapler discusses a much-used term in sports these days: analytics, which generally involves looking at lots of numbers, statistics, data, etc. But analytics may sound too, well, analytical in the eyes of some, especially old-fashioned ball coaches trained to worship the wisdom of the gut instinct. Kapler proposes a substitute, making "…an emphatic point that numbers – he prefers the term information now more than analytics – will always be an important factor in his decisions, but they will not dictate every move the way they appeared to during the 1-4 start." Of all the euphemisms in the world, not to mention this column, this one is far from the most sneaky or sinister. I'm looking at you, peacelord, who probably has prisoners with jobs.

information weapon
Speaking of information, here's a silly term that nevertheless fits the timeless idea that knowledge is power. As in article in Scotland's The Sunday Herald says, "RT is propaganda. The Kremlin owned, funded and managed channel does not really pretend otherwise. True, its editor does not like the p-word. She prefers the term 'information weapon'." Well, who wouldn't? An information weapon sounds so informative, while propaganda just sounds like propaganda.

socialize
In one of the other jobs I perform, when I'm not hunting euphemisms with an Elmer Fudd-like obsession, I noticed a groaner of a term. A colleague I won't name at a company I won't mention used a term I wish I could forget. In regards to a document, she said, "I socialized it with my team." For a moment I wondered if she had given the document the equivalent of finishing school or dog training, making it fit for polite or canine society. Then I realized she had simply shared it. Put this one in the Unnecessary Jargon Hall of Shame, Pretension, and Poppycock.

medieval
While this term generally refers to the Middle Ages, it has a related sense that's subtle and humorous: middle-aged. In 1848, Oliver Wendell Holmes described a fortysomething dude as a "medieval gentleman." An 1845 letter by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge shows the term can also be a noun: "I myself and many other mediævals can read their productions with unabated pleasure." As a medieval fellow myself, I may adopt this term, since it suggests I have a shiny suit of armor rather than an unsightly paunch of blubber.

Speaking of medieval issues, are you having an ongoing personal emergency?

That's the bonkers euphemism coined by Tim Dowling in The Guardian, "My midlife crisis is more of an ongoing personal emergency – at least I only bought a banjo."

I think I've been in an ongoing personal emergency since middle school, but now that I'm truly of medieval age, I should monitor my behavior and lifestyle for signs of trouble.

Copious and growing collection of action figures, including the glorious Egyptian Batman and Catwoman? Check.

Unnerving fondness for movies and music that remind me of my childhood? Check.

Age-inappropriate t-shirts and hats and underoos? Check.

See, I'm doing just fine. Nothing to see here. No ongoing personal emergency for me—just an ongoing medieval catastrophe with a side of immaturity-related issues. But, thankfully, no banjo.


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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 June 13th, 12:40 PM
Comment by: Nancy FriedmanVisual Thesaurus Contributor
"Socialize" in the sense you cite has been around for a while now. I wrote about it in 2010. https://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/candlepwr/weird-words-from-the-corporatese-lexicon/

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