Euphemisms old and new
Thought Identification and Other Potential Future Feelings
Recently, my friend Diane started feeling nauseous and passing out. After a scary trip to the emergency room, she learned the problem was her heart: it kept stopping every once in a while, so she was strongly advised to get a pacemaker. (She now has one and is doing great, thank Zeus.)
But when Diane was debating what to do, a doctor not only came down in favor of pacemaker insertion, but a certain word choice as well:
"Oh, it's not a surgery," the doctor said. "It's only a procedure."
Call me crazy, but anytime you saw someone open and attach something to their heart—in this case, a mechanical doowhacker that may bring them one step closer to being a fembot or Dick Cheney—I would say surgery is involved. But I don't get a say, even though I'm a doctor and a language columnist. I'm shunned by the AMA, because my doctorate is in English. Snobs!
Anyhoo, calling surgery a procedure did nothing to make Diane feel better about her ticker, but other sweet nothings may have a more soothing effect. As always, here are some old and new euphemisms to get you through the latest snowpocalypse—er, I guess we could say wintry conditions, for the faint of shovel.
On the Jan. 4 60 Minutes, Lesley Stahl interviewed Marcel Just and other neuroscientists about a new technology that can tell if a person is thinking about, say, a screwdriver or an igloo. (This could be important if evidence alone cannot distinguish a screwdriver assassin from an igloo bandit.) Stahl understandably thought of such brain-invasion as mind-reading, but Just called it thought identification, coining my favorite euphemism of 2009, so far. Though another 60 Minutes-watcher at the recent American Dialect Society meeting said the term was accurate and technical, rather than euphemistic and silly, I ask you, kind readers: Can't a word be technical and euphemistic? You just know the government's secret mind-stapo is more likely to use thought identification than mind-drilling in their interoffice memos, before the memos self-destruct.
"I need to see a man about a dog" and "I'm taking the Browns to the Super Bowl" are two time-honored ways of announcing a bowel movement, but my friend Theresa's four-year-old nephew blazes his own trail, shrieking "I've got the feeling!" Given the urgency of such pre-poop percolations, especially to the youthful, the is an appropriate word choice, elevating the feeling to the lofty company of the Pope and the Fonz. I just wonder if this is the same feeling Boston and REO Speedwagon sang about in "More Than a Feeling" and "I Can't Fight This Feeling," but such speculation would only reveal my age and frightening lack of maturity, two infirmities that might reflect poorly on each other if revealed to the public.
During the Brangelina-soaked movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Jane Smith flees an about-to-kaboom building, stranding her husband John. After taking a moment to assess the state of marriage in America, John says, with disgust and disappointment: "Chicken twit." I'd like to think Pitt's character was following in the absurd footsteps of a summer camper I knew who called her foes chicken weirdo. More likely, chicken twit is a censor-friendly euphemism for that which enters the world after a chicken has the feeling.
potential future contender
While watching some NBA games with my paternal unit on Christmas, I heard TNT analyst Kenny Smith call the Washington Wizards a scrub team. This made host Ernie Johnson laugh and suggest a more palatable term for the struggling, muggle-like Wizards: potential future contender. In the future, I shall put the fruit of Johnson's wit into the juicer of my fragile self-esteem. For example, did you know I am a potential future contributor to the New Yorker, as well as a potential future warlord on Mars?
As comedians and travelers have long known, airports are a banquet of euphemism and BS. But some airportese is so astounding it could take the breath away from a vampire. Last month, while gazing hopelessly at a screen that promised knowledge of the destiny of my flight, I read this strangely capitalized sentence: "Delay reason: Aircraft Delayed." I don't know if this really counts as a euphemism—my Buddhist advisors suggest it may be a new translation of an ancient Zen koan—but it is an enormously uninformative, evasive nugget of no knowledge at all.
Since I like making nonsense-ade out of nonsense, I think I'll adapt this strategy at my freelance medical shed for the uninsured and misinformed.
When asked, "Why do I have a fever?" I'll say, "You are hot."
On charts, I'll use my finest Crayolas to note: "Cause of hemorrhage: The patient is bleeding."
If asked by the AMA why I practice medicine unlawfully, I'll shrug and confess, "I am an unlawful medical practitioner."
But I am a potential future licensed medical practitioner, as are you, dear reader. It's what binds us together, like rope.