Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Size-inclusive Reinterpretations of Collective Cockamamie Coinages

War re-enactors have a goofy reputation—possibly because they are indeed restaurant-quality goofy. Sorry if that offends, but I say if you're going to dress up, wear something respectable, like a Batsuit.

I'm far from the only soul who strains a muscle raising an eyebrow at these antique shenanigans, no matter how cool the old-timey hats and muskets. So I can't blame some history-loving cosplayers for preferring a different term.

As a Cape Gazette article about a fella named Andrew Lyter puts it: "When Lyter isn't working as a historian, he's volunteering for historic re-enactments and living history events. He estimates he's volunteered at 20 different historic venues, and he said he prefers the term living historian to re-enactor. He said it's about using period items to teach people."

This term makes more sense than most euphemisms, though it does creepily bring to mind dead historians, who would probably just like to rest in peace, thank you very much.

For euphemisms, there's no wrong side of history: just the alternate plane of events over time.

size-inclusive
In our overstuffed age, it's hard to find a sensitive term for those of us who need to drop a few pounds, a demographic including nearly everybody. So it's not shocking when new terms for the curvy crowd pop up. Hunter McGrady, who posed for the latest Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, recently told Glamour magazine, "Sometimes the word 'plus' seems a little bit segregating. I think size-inclusive is awesome, curvy is great, plus-size is fine. Whatever you want to call it, it's just important to keep inclusivity as the main narrative here." As euphemisms go, size-inclusive is far from sinister or Orwellian. We give people, especially women, so much guff for their appearance; any word that makes life easier is hard to pooh-pooh.

white racialist
It's unbelievable and maddening that Nazis aren't as extinct as ancient Druids and primordial ooze. Their continued prominence was highlighted in a recent article in The Atlantic about Arthur Jones: "The Holocaust denier who is running unopposed in the Illinois Republican primary for U.S. Congress doesn't describe himself as a Nazi. His party, however, does. Arthur Jones now prefers the term 'white racialist'…" Well, there's the most disgusting euphemism of the month. I feel like I should apologize to all these other terms—which are silly and tone-deaf at worst—for lumping them with a cloak for genuine evil.

collective
This term sounds like a community-oriented society for the betterment of all people and woodland critters. Or a co-op. But it is neither. This is just a hideous alternative to the dreary but honest term food hall, as discussed in a City Press article: "Ohio's Derived Development Group, the company behind the concept, actually prefers the term collective rather than food hall, according to CoStar. But here's how they describe their vision for the space: The 'building includes several, local chef-driven concepts incorporated into the interior and a beverage dynamic equal to the uniqueness of the chefs themselves. The entire space will be vibrant and tell a story within and outside of its four walls. Casual, dining, alive—all words that describe the venue itself.'" Writer Emily Cassel rebutted: "So. Food hall." Ah, after the horror of white racialist, it's a relief to write about a euphemism that's merely pretentious.

sensible-sized burgers
Slider is a vivid term, maybe too vivid, for a tiny burger. A Los Angeles Daily News article reports: "Burgerim prefers the term sensible-sized burgers to sliders, but it intends them to be consumed in the same way, selling them in packs of one to 16." 16 sensible-sized burgers is definitely the preferred lunch for members of the American Oxymoron Society.

Finally, have you felt any headwinds lately?

If you think issues is a soft, slippery, malarkey-adjacent evasion of problems, brace yourself.

I came across this term in an article on the travel biz that said, "Wall Street prefers the term 'headwinds' to 'problems', and there are an awful lot of them in the travel stories coming out of brokers at the moment."

This term is used beyond the synergy-loving denizens of the business world. As Thomas Gilovich and Lee Ross wrote for Psychology Today: "What's true of headwinds and tailwinds is more broadly true of most of the benefits we receive and the obstacles we must overcome in many areas of life.  Like headwinds, obstacles are 'in our face,' reminding us of their existence, because we have to attend to them in order to overcome them.  Many of our benefits and privileges, in contrast, are easy to lose sight of because we typically don't have to attend to them.  We just profit from them."

I'm going to go ahead and file headwind and tailwind in the lengthy file of windy terms described by hot air and bloviation. When it comes to euphemisms, English is always full of high gusts and maximum mumbo jumbo.


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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:

Friday April 6th, 3:12 PM
Comment by: Jay G.
Euphemisms are designed to decieve. Wouldn't honest words be a better choice? Besides, beinng genuine would require much less learning of new terms over time.
Friday April 6th, 11:23 PM
Comment by: Seth Lee Abrams (Bigfork, MT)
I don’t have a comment. I have a rejoinder ideation addendum.
Friday April 6th, 11:40 PM
Comment by: Seth Lee Abrams (Bigfork, MT)
Funny thing ... Just saw a TV commercial for lawnmowers in which a machine I would call ‘a lawnmower’ was referred to as a ‘walk-behind.’ I imagine that is to distinguish such type of lawnmower from a riding lawnmower and/or a ‘push lawnmower’ that isn’t mildly powered to assist the walk-behinder in their progress across the yard.
Tuesday April 10th, 12:19 PM
Comment by: Dan F. (Minneapolis, MN)
Euphemisms for "problem" and "obstacle" are legion—and gag-worthy. "Headwinds" is a new one for me. The one that irritates me the most—I've whined about this before—is "challenge." It's presumptuous for you to call a problem a challenge if I don't accept it as a challenge. Do all handicapped people think of themselves as "physically challenged?"
Wednesday April 11th, 4:12 AM
Comment by: Tom C. (Haarlem Netherlands)
While I have no problem with people trying to find terms that don't alienate people or make them feel bad, like the cited 'curvy' and plus-size', I don't quite understand what 'size-inclusive' is meant to mean. A size-inclusive policy might be one that includes curvy people, but those people aren't 'size-inclusive'. Such unthought-through, ungrammatical words surely play into the hands of those who want to say that all such euphemisms are 'political correctness gone mad'.

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