Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Self-Partnered to Poppycock

Rejoice! There's a new candidate for Euphemism of the Year, Drivel of the Decade, and Malarkey of the Millennium: self-partnered.

This term was dribbled into pop culture by actress Emma Watson, who told British Vogue, "I never believed the whole 'I'm happy single' spiel.' I was like, 'This is totally spiel.' It took me a long time, but I'm very happy [being single]. I call it being self-partnered."

Speaking of totally spiel…yikes. And thank you, my dear Watson. I'm grateful to have a new term of twaddle to discuss, especially one that isn't related to crimes against humanity. Crimes against language are much easier to forgive.

Hey, we clearly put too much pressure on folks, especially female folks, to get married and have kids. So I encourage all my fellow humans to feel comfortable being single, double, triple, or whatever they please. But I reckon a sign of being truly comfortable with singlehood would be the ability to use the word. At least that's what George Carlin told me when I communed with his spirit in a Buffalo, NY garage.

Whether you're self-partnered or married to the cosmos, it's not cheating to swap some euphemisms, which appear as frequently in English as squirrels in a garden. Please enjoy these lexical critters — and forgive them for gnawing on the flowers of truth.

outdated cultural depictions
Subscribers to the new Disney+ streaming service noted an interesting word choice in a disclaimer of some older films: "This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions." In other words, "If you think racism is bad today, hoo boy, you won't believe what's in some of our older films."

life assembly
The term rally has a somewhat negative connotation, from the jingoistic political rally to the annoying pep rally. So I can't blame one rally-centric fella for choosing a new term — or maybe I can, based on the substitution. An article on Elec Simon's work with children includes a groaner of a misnomer: "Don't call what he does a rally. He prefers the term 'life assemblies.' He simply wants to talk with the students who attend." Simon is doing good work, but this term scratches the blackboard of every fiber of my being. I can't accept the term life assembly when the thought of attending a rally make me wish for the sweet release of death.

person of conscience
We're all tired of hearing certain words in politics these days: quid pro quo and whistleblower among the most popular. Well, I'm no longer tired of whistleblower after reading this alternative in a TDN article:

"It's a long, hard and lonely battle," said Tamosaitis, who prefers the term "person of conscience" to whistleblower and is supportive of Trump in his current battle against the complaint filed by the anonymous Washington intelligence official. "I think that Trump had done one hell of a good job, and the Democrats can't accept that," he said.

I agree that whistleblowing is about having a shred of conscience, but good gravy, that's a pretentious term. And the similarity to person of color is just weird. If a term must be coined, and it must use that form, I'd go with blower of whistles.

dopamine fasting
I'm not big on any kind of fasting: I prefer to munch and sip and stare at screens pretty much constantly, lest I become undistracted and therefore conscious of my own thoughts and feelings. So I was appalled in many senses by a term discussed and dismissed on PsychCentral by John M. Grohol:

Dopamine fasting is a silly fad with an unscientific name that greatly undermines its own attempt in helping people take a break from technology or anxious living. It's perfectly healthy and reasonable to take some time away from the never-ending demands of an always-on lifestyle.

Grohol adds, "We used to call this taking a vacation." Rim shot. But seriously, I guess I could use a dopamine fast. My dopamine gut is appalling.

paint houses
The Irishman, Martin Scorsese's latest mob movie, which I will watch soon after finishing this column, was inspired by a book with a euphemism in the title: I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa. According to my secret decoder ring, "I heard you paint houses" means "I heard you kill people." So next time you hire a house painter, beware.

Speaking of the mob, have you ever vomited the pasta?

That's a tremendous term from a National Post article on mob slang, and it means to sing like a canary, go bad, snitch, or drop a dime: in other words, inform to the police.

Writer Adrian Humphries explains:

'Jittari i virmiceddi' is an old Sicilian Mafia slang that loosely translates as 'vomit the pasta,' meaning someone who reveals secrets regurgitates his meal. It cuts deeper than the English slang 'spilling his guts,' as it is imbued with moral rebuke for rejecting the sustenance the criminal life gave him.

This highlights one crucial benefit of self-partnership. No one can vomit their pasta, literally or criminally, on you.


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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 December 11th 2019, 4:43 AM
Comment by: Bill G.
So, blower of whistles means the same as pasta vomiter?
Thursday December 12th 2019, 8:50 AM
Comment by: Sam T. (Tucson, AZ)
Your column is most enjoyable, this morning. Thanks for digging for meanings.
Saturday December 14th 2019, 12:52 PM
Comment by: Karen A.
Bill G. You may be a missed of boats. I would suggest that blower of whistle would be most similar to vomiter of pasta.
Saturday December 14th 2019, 12:54 PM
Comment by: Karen A.
Dang. I meant misser of boats. Autocorrect is not my friend.
Monday December 16th 2019, 8:26 AM
Comment by: David C. (Marietta, GA)
Fun post. Would a "death assembly" be a funeral or a heavenly choir?

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