Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Reacting Incorrectly to Banking Task Forces

Last month I mentioned the odd new nonsense-clature lingerie company Neon Moon is using for their clothes: preposterously, numbered sizes are being replaced by lovely, beautiful, and gorgeous. That reminded me of the Arrested Development episode in which a new-age school gave Maeby Funke a crocodile rather than a C, in hopes of sparing her fragile, flower-like self-esteem. Somehow I forgot an even battier euphemism from the same episode.

As ever-hapless George Michael Bluth struggled to express his feelings at another flaky, woo-woo school, his teacher Donnie Richter tried to take the pressure off by mentioning the school's lack of grades:

Donnie: We don't have grades here. A student either learns and gets an L or they fluctuate.
George Michael: What do we get for that?
Donnie: An F.

I think we can all take comfort in that, although I doubt the next Internet catchphrase will be "Epic fluctuation."

As usual, I haven't fluctuated to find many euphemisms in the past month. Here are the terms that made my BS detector beep and blip and bloop (not a euphemism).

reacted incorrectly

Back in May, famed Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski was said to have told an opposing player "You're too good of a player to do that," with "that" referring to the shooting of a meaningless three-pointer in a blowout win over Duke. Afterwards, Krzyzewski denied having said this, but CBS audio showed that he did. Whoopsie-poo! By way of apology, Coach K said, "In the postgame press conference, I reacted incorrectly to a reporter's question about my comment to Dillon." That's an ultra-vague way to say, "I lied." If such an explanation passed muster, no one would ever be found guilty of perjury or having pants on fire.

banking task force

The HBO show Veep is not known for its euphemisms. Just the opposite. I don't think there's been a show with more creative, enthusiastic swearing since Deadwood. But in the second episode of the latest season, President Selina Meyers uses a fantastic euphemism when trying to "emulate Bill Clinton," if you know what I mean. After meeting and hitting it off with a banking executive, Selina asks her chief-of-staff to arrange a meeting, pleading, "I just want to have a quick banking task force." They banter some ridiculous lines back and forth, such as "Ma'am, if you want I can arrange a more discreet banking task force." Suffice to say, this is my favorite euphemism of the month and maybe my lifetime. However, it makes me glad I'm not a parent. It must be hard to know when it's best to talk to your children about banking task forces.

extra-pair paternity

Evasive Maneuvers supporter Edward Banatt recently reminded me of this classic euphemism, which I don't think I've ever written about, so it's about time. In a New York Times article about the timeless art of cuckoldry, this glorious sentence by VT executive producer Ben Zimmer's brother Carl would make anyone's euph-dar ping: "The term cuckold traditionally refers to the husband of an adulteress, but Dr. Larmuseau and other researchers focus on those cases that produce a child, which scientists politely call 'extra-pair paternity.' " In other words, maybe the mailman is your father, or maybe not, since Zimmer's article disputes the idea that mistaken paternity is anything but rare. Besides, studies show that FedEx guys are more fertile.

enhanced individual

I love superheroes, and I love a good euphemism for a superhero. The Flash uses the term metahuman. On Daredevil, a sleazy lawyer referred to the superpowered set as people with complexities. And in Captain America: Civil War, when the U.N. is trying to gain oversight of the Avengers, supes are called enhanced individuals. That's a fitting term, since the issue at hand is collateral damage resulting from super-brawls, and enhanced is used in reference to plenty of damaging practices, most famously enhanced interrogation methods. A few years ago, I looked at the diabolical resume of enhanced, a euphemism supreme.


The Oxford English Dictionary is my favorite thing in the multiverse because it's the biggest, deepest look at the endless peaks and valleys of English. While searching for something totally unrelated, I came upon the entry for one-eyed, which is a far more useful word than I could have imagined. Besides the literal sense, one-eyed has meant narrow-minded since the late 1700s. That's the meaning intended in this 1863 letter: "I do believe the man thinks he is doing God service and is honest in his way, though vain and one-eyed to ludicrosity, as you have most thoroughly and delightfully shown." One-eyed has also been synonymous with one-horse, as in a one-horse town, which I assume also has one or fewer gluten-free bakeries. I'm not sure if these uses are closer to dysphemisms than euphemisms, but they're certainly useful, though potentially confusing and hurtful to the pirate community.

Finally, have you ever set off a lie detector when offering some truthful hyperbole?

This first cousin of Stephen Colbert's truthiness comes from trumpery-spewer Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal. It's a way to sneakily describe his tendency to say absolutely anything—including lies and malarkey—to make a deal. While Trump didn't invent truthful hyperbole, he may have perfected it. As usual, he knows his branding, which could be worth emulating.

The next time I spew rubbish, I may claim it's actually truthful garbage. When someone accuses me of utter horse pucky, I'll say I only produce truthful horse apples. Maybe some creative liar out there will one day claim to be a truthful perjurer or truthful plagiarist. And if I ever fall for a scam, I pray to Odin it's a truthful pyramid scheme.

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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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Thursday June 9th 2016, 5:54 PM
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