Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Strategic Flexibility and Other Bendy Balderdash

I am a lifelong believer in strategy. While others are playing checkers, I play Connect Four.

That said, a sneaky use of strategy was new to me, until I stumbled upon it in the lofty webpages of Yahoo News:

Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in the US, told Reuters: "This would be the first cruise missile in North Korea to be explicitly designated a 'strategic' role."

"This is a common euphemism for nuclear-capable system," Panda said.

Nukes! Today they are almost a quaint concern, a relic of the 80s like pet rocks, Rubik’s Cube, or me. But I suppose strategic is a solid cloaking device for weapons that could still result in the destruction of all we hold dear, IF they hurry. The list of stuff ready to destroy all we hold dear is longer than a Godfather movie.

I’m clearly in no hurry to get to the rest of this month’s euphemism. In these uncertain times, I find it’s important to savor every moment, every morsel, and every horse cookie.

sober lite
The term lite is probably best known for beer, which is fitting since this term is the watery, lexical equivalent of Bud Lite. (PSA: Stay away from booze, whippersnappers). Anyhow, I’m a sucker for stories about crooners:

In a new interview, the "Blinding Lights" crooner (born Abel Tesfaye) explained he still smokes weed and "occasionally" drinks, but said he's clean otherwise. "I’m not a heavy drinker, as much as I used to be," The Weeknd said in his September 2021 GQ cover story, noting he prefers the term "sober lite". "The romance of drinking isn’t there."

Hmm. Smoking weed + drinking a little = sober lite? Would smoking weed + drinking a lot + abusing prescription pills = original flavor sober? Someone check my math because I’m apparently far too sober to grok this crock.

travel credential
Due to many Americans having the common sense, empathy, and reasoning skills of a potted plant, the idea of a vaccine passport has been controversial, since apparently all the vaccines that have existed up to this point are fine for some reason, but the covid vaccine must be resisted at all costs, including mass death and disease. Swell. Thanks to dunderheaded Americans, some folks are forced to play word games in hopes of instilling such fools with a clue. Case in point:

Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian can’t even bring himself to use the term ‘vaccine passport’ because it “carries too many connotations.” Bastian prefers the term ‘travel credential’, although he doesn’t see a vaccine or test mandate being introduced for domestic air travel.

I dunno how vaccine passport is a bad term, especially connotation-wise. In my estimation, passport is a good-to-great word — it means you can travel all around this big blue marble of ours instead of being stuck in your spider-hole. But hey, if travel credential somehow helps the cause, have at it. I reckon too many people need a passport to find their own hiney.

wearable sculpture
I dig costumes, though I’m too lazy to wear one or fight crime. But whether I’m reading a comic book or watching some luchadores, I love to see colorful, vibrant, wacky costumes. But an article from The Guardian about an art exhibit includes a word choice that suggests costume is passe:

The primary focus of the exhibit has a particular link to Trinidad Carnival. Barbata has worked with Moko Jumbies and other stilt dancers in different countries. She first came to Trinidad to do a community paper making collaboration in Grand Riviere and attended the 2002 Carnival. Then she worked with Dragon and the Kilamanjaro Moko Jumbies of Cocorite. From 2003 to 2007, she made their costumes — she prefers the term “wearable sculpture” and worked on the band’s Carnival presentations.

This is dumb, but I’m no better. I may actually be going to a comic convention this December — if there isn’t an Apocalypse Variant running around by then — and I might finally be ready for some cosplay. Or should I say wearable comic books.

Finally, let’s revisit strategy — specifically, the type that goes to yoga class: strategic flexibility.

I’m fortunate enough to have worked at home even before covid, so I’m used to existing in a crystalline Fortress of Solitude. But many other folks ended up working at home for the first time, experiencing the job of doing laundry and working at the same time. Anyhoo, as the pandemic plays peekaboo with normalcy, some workers are still remote, and some are hybrid (office plus remote). But these terms are too transparent for blushing businesses, as seen in an article from an HR pub:

As we hopefully move toward a pandemic-under-control world, there may be better words to use. Jessica DeGroot, founder and president of the ThirdPath Institute, prefers the term "strategic flexibility." She views the issue holistically: Strategic flexibility is workplace flexibility for men and women, from entry-level to executive leadership positions, that takes into account whether they work better onsite or offsite. She also includes life stages, recognizing that employees' needs change.

Classic. Strategic flexibility takes the easily understood term hybrid and buries it in pretentious poppycock, but it does give away some of the shell game. The flexibility is all about the folks on top, or at least will be spooned out by them, like a yoga class where the teacher withholds the bendiest moves for themselves. As grandfather said, “Gag me with a strategic missile.”


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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:

Saturday October 16th 2021, 1:02 PM
Comment by: David D.
I was just beginning to carve out the name of my habitat on a piece of precious scrap wood when you referred to your "crystalline Fortress of Solitude." I like that. I may purloin that title even though I may need a few more words for clarification.

There could be contradictions. "Smeared crystalline, unsecured fortress, crowded solitude." Something like that. I am inspired. Thanks.
Friday October 29th 2021, 3:35 PM
Comment by: Dan F. (Minneapolis, MN)
I've seen commercials on late-night TV for "Strategic" pens, sunglasses, knives, and key fobs. I'm still trying to figure those out.
Tuesday January 18th, 9:14 AM
Comment by: sally L. (s natick, MA)
Wow, Did not expect funny, but here I am , laughing, giggling and reading more of the articles here...and thinking of some friends who would also enjoy the articles, maybe they do, maybe they too subscribe to Visual Thesaurus. Most certainly, my uncle who was a Philologist,Choate and Yale, would have been delighted. Me, I just like words. Undereducated.I liked high school English but was not encouraged by grades.

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