Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Taking Some Problematic Executive Time

Move over, alternative facts. We may have a Euphemism of the Year for 2018 already.

As Jonathan Swan wrote in an Axios article, "President Trump is starting his official day much later than he did in the early days of his presidency, often around 11am, and holding far fewer meetings, according to copies of his private schedule shown to Axios. This is largely to meet Trump's demands for more 'Executive Time,' which almost always means TV and Twitter time alone in the residence, officials tell us."

Ah, executive time. We all take it. We all love it. I use mine for naps and rewatching Captain America movies. It doesn't get any more executive than that.

Since this term made the news, everyone and their monkey's uncle has made fun of it, often on Twitter. Many users, like @KenTremendous, mocked the President's frequent golf trips: 'Sorry, people. Can't weigh in on the nuclear missile false alarm that just sent America into a panic. Executive time at the club.' Some tried to helpful, such as @TopherSpiro: "IDEA: to maintain Medicaid eligibility, the poor, disabled, and chronically ill can just submit daily schedules full of 'Executive Time.'" And many humorously identified with the concept, like @miragonz: "i wake up in the morning and stare at my phone for 2 hours until i'm awake enough to brush my teeth, i call that my 'executive time'."

We'll have to see if any other euphemisms rise (or sink) to this level in the remaining months of 2018. In the meantime, here's a look at some other euphemistic leftovers from 2017: the Year of the Horsepucky, according to the Mayan Malarkey calendar.

avocado toast
When the American Dialect Society met in early January to select fake news as word of the year and alternative facts as euphemism of the year, they discussed at least three other brain-boggling euphemisms. While they weren't strong contenders to alternative facts, they still deserve to be remembered. For these terms, it's a dishonor just to be nominated. Take avocado toast, which ADS defined as "A minor indulgence for which people unfairly judge others, esp. millennials." Just as the allegedly leftist latte is used to lambast liberals, avocado toast is thrown in the cauldron of anti-youth bile perpetually cooked up by the aging and grumpy. As for me, I'm old enough to be two millennials and I think avocado toast is awesome. Still, great euphemism.

internet freedom
A more terrifying and newsy evasion recorded by the ADS is internet freedom, a blanket of bunkum used to brazenly defend the annihilation of net neutrality. Freedom, sadly, is a veteran euphemism ingredient. Religious freedom is often used to cloak policies allowing people to discriminate against others because their religion says it's OK. A less evil and more ridiculous term is freedom fries, that Dubya-era evasion of French fries. Freedom fries were expertly spoofed when 30 Rock's Jack Donaghy boasted of undergoing an airport freedom search, which is not recommended by doctors but should be performed by one.

problematic
This is the ADS term that burns my toast the most. Good golly, I have long loathed this word, ever since the dark years I spent in the deepest depths of hell, aka graduate school. I swear, my fellow students must have been playing some pretentious form of bingo that could only be won by saying problematic 10 times a class. Everything was problematic, with nary a problem to be found. ADS defined this information-free word as, "An understated way to say something is very wrong or unacceptably politically incorrect." I define it as restaurant-quality rot we should wipe from our vocabularies yesterday. OK? OK.

lifestyle, live-it
Moving on from ADS, it's a new year, and if you're anything like me, you're a middle-aged man who'd like to lose a few pounds from the ol' paunch. But who wants to diet? Not moi. And not a fella named Willie Bell, who is discussed in a Clarion Ledger article, "A man of many talents, Willie Bell now appears on a mission of converting carnivores after several months of trying his own plant-based diet. He prefers the term 'lifestyle.' 'It's a "live-it," not a "diet," quipped the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Bell." A whatsit? A live-it? Seriously? I understand positive thinking, but that doesn't mean I have to swallow a matzo ball of mumbo jumbo gumbo.

ingested
I like robots and birds, so you know I like the Robird, which is designed to lure birds away from airplanes. The birds never get the better of those meetings, which aren't great for the planes either. A euphemism emerged in a description of the dangers in The New York Times: "Small birds do little damage to a plane, even if they are sucked into an engine ('ingested' is the aviation term)." As the former owner of a small bird—the late, great Butch the parakeet—I am appalled.

Finally, for my long-haired readers, do you use a hair cloud?

That's the insane term for a scrunchie coined by fashion designer Line Sander Johansen. As she explains in a Los Angeles Times article: "The Hair Cloud as I named it, instead of the mixed feelings I had about the scrunchie concept, is based on the idea of them looking like silk clouds around the hair, when tied a bit effortless in a bundle."

Lest you think Johansen is the type of madwoman who vows to kill the Batman in her spare time, there's a simple explanation for this bonkers term: she's trying to sell scrunchies for almost $200 a pop. That requires verbiage. And chutzpah. And a concept that makes avocado toast seem like a burger and fries.

So problematic.


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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 February 7th, 9:48 AM
Comment by: Linda J.
Ha!! Fantastic.
Wednesday February 7th, 3:11 PM
Comment by: Dan F. (Minneapolis, MN)
The kind of people who take "executive time" can also be hospitalized for "exhaustion." I've often wondered if we regular people could use this procedure. But I guess our health plans would consider exhaustion a pre-existing condition.

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