Euphemisms old and new
Scooping Technicians and Horizontal Engineers... Under Dark Ethical Clouds
Mark Peters' first article for the Visual Thesaurus ("Euphemtastic!") was such a hit that we've decided to make him a regular contributor. Every month he'll be sharing some outrageous euphemisms from his personal collection.
I'm a language lover with many lexical liaisons: new words, old words, eggcorns, infixes, nonce words, and slang all float my boat to pleasing waters, where the sun shines and the dictionaries glisten and the seabirds coo.
But euphemisms might be my fave. In fact, I love euphemisms so much that I have more love in my heart for the sweet words contractors and consultants in the peace and security industry than for real-life, flesh-and-firearm mercenaries especially when they're at the door selling cookies or liquidating assets.
For other euphemism-lovers, here are some old and new evasions you may have missed while hoarding hedgehogs.
(That isn't a euphemism, actually. I just like hedgehogs.)
As a dog owner, I am resigned to carrying around bags of poop; it never occurred to me that this ignoble task, like so many American jobs, could be outsourced. But contracted canine-caca cleanup is a real gig, as substantiated by Grant Barrett's awesome Double-Tongued Dictionary site, which quotes the Aug. 3, 2008 Augusta Chronicle: "On this run, the 'scooping technicians,' as they call themselves, have netted a fair amount of dog poo. This niche job has been a successful venture for Mr. Roberts, who owns Doggie Biz Pet Waste Removal with his wife." I take two lessons from this: 1) The couple that pooper-scoops together, stays together, and 2) Now that I can think of myself a self-employed scooping technician, my own turd-herding already feels more noble and dignified.
The whiff of sleaze rising from this term is unmistakable, but misleading: horizontal engineering just means sleep. According to the Historical Dictionary of American Slang, this military coinage is as old as the Forties; synonyms include horizontal exercise, horizontal fatigue, and the less-mystifying sack time. Here's a 1958 use of the concept, courtesy of HDAS: "You out and out bastard, the only engineering you ever did was horizontal."
I swear that the Visual Thesaurus overlords don't give me a bonus for including a meteorological term in each column: last month's forecast just happened to include thought showers a batty evasion of brainstorm and this month brings intermittent dishonesty with ethical clouds moving rapidly over Lake Greedhead. This term shows up in many stories about political corruption and money-licking: A News Blaze headline claims Sarah Palin is "Unqualified, Unvetted, and Under an Ethical Cloud," while Congressman Charles Rangel is elsewhere said to be under a dark ethical cloud for his financial missteps another grade-A, 24-carat, restaurant-quality truth-softener. Ethical cloud is a euphemistic wonder among wonders, painting beclouded varmints as if they were the cuddly, passive victims of capricious skies.
Are euphemisms that spoof other euphemisms still column-worthy euphemisms? The Committee says yes, after a long meeting with select-the-Pope-type solemnity. Undead American a riff on terms such as African-American and Native American is used in many humorous settings, but its widest exposure might have been on the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when Buffy said to Angel: "...I don't trust you. You're a vampire. Oh, I'm sorry. Was that an offensive term? Should I say 'undead American'?" (The episode was "When She Was Bad," Sept. 15, 1997, written by Joss Whedon.) Like so many euphemisms, undead American is ambiguous: it could also apply to zombies. (Question for supernaturally attuned readers: Besides zombies and vampires and leftovers, is anything else in the world, technically speaking, undead?)
by the pody cody
There's just something about reduplicative words like bibble-babble, ooh-la-la, and palsy-walsy that's more fun than a frog in a glass of milk, but this seldom-used, OED-recorded expression wasn't invented for its potential to entertain the nation's swaddling children and language columnists it's a taboo deformation of by the body of God, a heavy concept well worthy of a soft blanket of euphem-licious words.
By the pody cody, I'm thinking of incorporating other expressions such as by the flippy-floppy and by the quack-quack into my repertoire of exclamations. Even if you're not fleeing an army of the undead or the ethically clouded, such words are good for the brain and soul and tongue.
By the higgledy-piggledy, don't you agree?