Euphemisms old and new
Pivoting Toward Neutral-colored Nesting Enclosures
Pivot is the euphemism du jour of this election season. Check out these headlines:
Donald Trump's pivot to the center — of darkness
Chicago Tribune, July 22
Why Trump's 'Pivot' Is Fake And Laughably Late At That
Huffington Post, July 17
Hillary's Pivot Problem
Commentary Magazine, Jul 13
Bernie's Big Pivot: Sanders Will Now Campaign Nationally to Elect Progressives and Reform DNC Superdelegate Process
AlterNet, Jul 12
Clinton, pivoting to the general, sees boost in fundraising
CNN.com, Jun 29
Unless each candidate is secretly pursuing a career as a circus contortionist, one can assume these uses don't refer to a physical twist or turn. So what do they mean?
As best I can tell, a political pivot is a flip-flop that's somehow not flip-floppy: a reversal, backflip, or malarkey infusion that manages to stick the landing somewhere other than in a pile of horse apples. Political pivotology requires great metaphorical agility and a limber set of beliefs—or hordes of gullible voters and packs of lousy journalists, but that's another story.
I'm not sure I've sufficiently pivoted from this introduction, but it is time to discuss the other euphemisms that caught my wandering eye this month. Please use them the next time you scream to the heavens, preach to the choir, or whisper back to the voices in your head.
sweep and clear
This sounds like a downright wholesome pair of terms—or at least a pair clean enough to eat off of, like they say. However, this is a deeply duplicitous term I heard while rewatching Full Metal Jacket, the Stanley Kubrick Vietnam classic. After the devastating first half of the movie, featuring the drill sergeant from hell, the second half takes place in actual hell (the war). Our hero, the Marine nicknamed Joker, ends up with a cushy spot: writing for military newspaper Stars and Stripes. In an editorial meeting, Joker and the rest receive a vocabulary lesson: sweep and clear should replace the altogether too honest expression search and destroy. I'm sure this was very comforting to everyone who was, ahem, cleared.
I spied this term in a Vanity Fair article by Michael Kinsley. While naming opportunity could describe a blessed event, such as the birth of a child or adoption of a pet, the actual meaning is not carbon-based. Kinsey describes naming opportunities as "the equivalent of building a pyramid," meaning a preposterous chance for a rich and powerful person to ensure that their ego remains stroked beyond the grave. Specifically, naming opportunities are those times when a super-rich type donates major bucks and gets the chance to stick their name on a building, a wing, or maybe even a whole chicken. A recent Trussville (Alabama) Tribune article used this twaddlesome term, "With the opening of two brand-new elementary schools, Trussville City Schools Foundation is offering naming opportunities at both Magnolia Elementary and Cahaba Elementary Schools. Recently the Trussville City School Board granted management of the fundraising effort to the Foundation." In other words: "How much are you willing to pay to satiate your vanity, you monster?"
Last month I mentioned pre-success, a godawful euphemism from the Silicon Valley satire aptly named Silicon Valley. Just as the real Valley is a garden of jargon and euphemism, so is the show. When our sorta heroes—the masterminds behind compression app Pied Piper—are setting up their workspace, they feel the need for some separation and privacy. As everyone sees where this is going and objects, ever-helpful Jared says, "…don't think of it as a cubicle. Think of it as a neutral-colored enclosure about yay-high around your work space." Another amazing euph from this show was used by robotic CEO Laurie Bream: "Jack Barker has been exited." Translation: "I fired Jack Barker." No wonder the passive voice is widely considered to be as trustworthy as a bag of snakes.
I just have one last question: are you and your spouse nesting?
(Note to editor: I'm relatively sure this does not refer to anything inappropriate and aviary).
I learned about nesting from a friend going through a divorce: at first I thought I hadn't heard him correctly. Nesting sounds like an activity from the beginning of marriage, not the end, at least according to my matrimony-dar.
But this term doesn't lack logic. When a separating or divorcing couple with children nests, they stay in their home: they just don't stay there at the same time. This allows for less schlepping the children around town and seems to work best when the spouses are not, as the kids say these days, "consumed by hatred from the depths of hell."
Still, this is a bit of a euphemism. I would say "shifting" might be a more honest term, since the couple is essentially parenting in shifts. Or maybe this should be called "staying-the-hell-out-of-each-other's way." The nest hardly seems the point: it's about avoiding the other bird and making sure the eggs don't go all Humpty Dumpty.
But I guess that's why my grandpappy used to say, "You can't make an omelet without coining ridiculous terms."